The ruling Georgian Dream party appears to have fraudulently overturned a presidential veto on controversial amendments to Georgia’s electoral code, by falsely claiming that more MPs had voted than were present in the parliamentary session.
The veto was overturned and amendments to Georgia’s electoral code were adopted in an extraordinary session of parliament held on 3 July, with the parliament reporting 78 votes in favour and 14 against.
However, opposition Girchi MP Aleksandre Rakviashvili stated after the vote that there had not been a sufficient number of MPs present in the session to overturn the vote.
OC Media counted the number of MPs present in parliament during the vote and found that fewer MPs were present in parliament than were reported on the electronic vote boards.
The proposed changes to the electoral code have been controversial since the amendments were first tabled in May, and were vetoed by President Salome Zurabishvili in June.
One of the key points of contention is a change in the procedure for the election of the chair and members of the Central Election Commission (CEC), an independent state body charged with controlling election commissions and ensuring uniform application of electoral legislation in Georgia.
The new system allows parliament to elect the chair of the CEC along with seven members for a term of five years, a marked downsize from the previous model, which allowed for up to 17 members.
The new rules also allow the speaker of parliament to nominate all CEC candidates based on a shortlist provided by a separate commission, depriving the president the ability to nominate candidates.
[Read on OC Media: Georgian President loses right to nominate Central Election Commission]
In motivational remarks published on 26 June, the president described the proposed legislation as ‘clearly a backward step’ after the ‘progress’ of previous years, going on to veto it the same day.
On Monday, the parliamentary opposition demanded the annulment of the results of the vote overturning the president’s veto, and for the vote to be rerun.
‘A procedural violation’
Girchi MP Aleksandre Rakviashvili told OC Media that the vote to overturn the presidential veto was falsified, which he informed the Speaker of Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, and Parliamentary Mandate Service of after voting was over.
He added that, prior to the vote, he had noticed that there were not enough MPs present in the hall to make quorum.
‘I [told] the MPs that they don't have a quorum. The opposition MPs did not want to admit this, because [they said that] “because of this the session will be postponed, we will have to work extra and come in August” ’, Rakviashvili explained, adding that while a number of other MPs joined the session later, the total attendance was still lower than the quorum.
After the end of the voting, Rakviashvili addressed the Speaker of the Parliament to raise his concerns.
Papuashvili responded by telling Rakviashvili that ‘if you want to count, count [it] yourself’, and continued the session without delay.
Rakviashvili explained that while 76 votes were required to overturn the veto, Georgian Dream had only 61 out of 67 MPs present in parliament, as well as speaker Shalva Papuashvili. He added that two additional votes in favour of overturning the veto were received from the government-aligned European Socialist party, and nine from Georgian Dream satellite group People’s Power, bringing the total to 73 votes — three votes less than necessary.
OC Media counted the number of MPs present at the session at the time of the vote, and found both that the number of Georgian Dream MPs matched Rakviashvili’s figures, and that fewer MPs were present in the hall than appeared on the total number of results.
On Monday, Publika reported that journalists present at the session stated that Georgian Dream MPs Kakha Kakhishvili, Beka Odisharia, Dito Samkharadze were not present at the vote. The Girchi party additionally listed two other ruling party MPs, Givi Chichinadze and Levan Kobiashvili, as absent from the voting process.
OC Media checked the seats of the five MPs in the session hall and found that on 3 July, their seats were indeed empty at the time of voting.
Invalidating the veto overturn
Constitutional lawyer Vakhushti Menabde told OC Media that if the Constitutional Court hears the case and finds a procedural violation, it will invalidate the vote.
‘If it is established that the veto of the president was overridden in the absence of a quorum, then the law will be considered unconstitutional’, explained Menabde. ‘It must be appealed at the Constitutional Court, and the Constitutional Court will annul [the parliament's decision] if it considers that the formal procedures for adopting the law have been violated’.
According to him, an appeal to the Constitutional Court must be made by the president, and at least a fifth of all current MPs. The parliament’s website lists 140 active members of parliament at present, meaning that 28 MPs would need to submit an appeal.
On 7 July, local media reported that the presidential administration requested that parliament provide ‘detailed information’ about the vote. The presidential administration did not respond to a request for comment from OC Media.
Papuashvili responded to the presidential administration’s request on 10 July, stating that any political group that doubted the results of the vote should make a complaint in accordance with parliamentary procedure, after which the votes would be recounted. He noted that Girchi had not followed that procedure.
Papuashvili also stated that Rakviashvili was not the head of the Girchi political group in parliament, and that, ‘if we look at the issue formally’, faction head Iago Khvichia should have addressed parliament on the group’s behalf.
However, Rakviashvili told OC Media that his accusation obligated the Parliamentary Speaker to take action, because responsibility lay with the ruling party to prove that there were 76 MPs in attendance who voted to overturn the veto.
‘I was not even obliged to count it, it is enough to raise a suspicion’, said Rakviashvili.
He claimed that Girchi does not plan to apply to the Constitutional Court without other parties.
‘[Girchi] will not deal with this story alone and we are waiting for the president’s statement on this subject’, he said. ‘If people understand that this is unacceptable, this is a very serious and dangerous precedent, including in terms of future elections and tensions, then, naturally, the constitutional court [is a legitimate way to restore justice]’.