Three opposition MPs in Georgia have been stripped of their seats in a move that will potentially shift the balance of power in parliament.
On Tuesday, MPs from the ruling party Georgian Dream party voted to axe the seats of three opposition leaders: Shalva Natelashvili, Chair of the Labour Party, Badri Japaridze, one of Lelo’s leaders, and the chair of Droa (it’s time!), Elene Khoshtaria.
Georgian Dream also terminated the mandate of one of their own leading lawmakers, ex-Speaker Kakha Kuchava. While the party lauded him for his service, neither he nor Georgian Dream ever fully explained the reasons behind his departure from the parliament.
Natelashvili and Japaridze condemned the vote, having had a change of heart over their boycott of parliament after the 2020 elections.
Khostaria, who had run on European Georgia’s ticket only to later break away to form Droa (it’s time!), remained steadfast in her boycott, claiming that the election was rigged, while also stating that she did not wish to take a seat that belonged to her former party.
Japaridze’s membership was terminated based on a January conviction for fraud, with Georgian Dream citing article 39.5(d) of the constitution which stipulates the early termination of MPs convicted by a court.
In the case of Shalva Natelashvili and Elene Khoshtaria, majority MPs referred to a parliamentary regulation they had recently amended which sanctions lawmakers for ‘failing to attend without good reason more than half of the regular sittings during regular sessions’.
Additionally, Article 30 of the recently ammended Law of Georgia On Political Associations of Citizens triggers the cancellation of financial support from the state budget and free TV air-time for parties that fail to take up half of their parliamentary mandates.
Thus Lelo and the Labour party are expected to lose out on ₾800,000 ($270,000) and ₾290,000 ($99,000) of state financial support respectively as of March.
Georgian Dream’s U-turn on rescinding the mandates for several opposition leaders came not long after the United National Movement (UNM), the largest opposition party in Georgia, decided to end their parliamentary boycott last month, followed by Labour soon after.
[Read more on OC Media: Saakashvili's UNM end intermittent boycott of parliament]
Upon taking up their seats, the UNM named setting up a parliamentary fact-finding commission into alleged mistreatment of their founder, Georgia’s third President Mikheil Saakashvili, among their top priorities.
The launch of the commission requires the support of one-third of the total number of MPs — 50 votes — a task complicated by Georgian Dream’s latest move.
Following the termination of the three mandates, Khatia Dekanoidze, an MP from the UNM, argued that their initiative for the commission was exactly what made the parliamentary majority go forward with axing seats in an expedited manner.
Georgian Dream’s move was widely condemned by leading watchdog groups in Georgia, as well as President Salome Zurabishvili.
Lelo’s Japaridze takes fight to Rustavi
Hours after the termination of Badri Japaridze’s mandate on 15 February, Lelo chair Mamuka Khazaradze announced that Japaridze would run for a by-election in Rustavi set for 2 April.
Rustavi’s majoritarian seat was made vacant following Georgian Dream MP Nino Latsabidze’s win in the mayoral race there last year. Latsabidze secured victory in a November runoff with 54%, against the UNM’s Davit Kirkitadze, who won 46%.
‘A fight between good and evil starts. Yes, this will be a crucial battle’, Mamuka Khazaradze stated on Tuesday.
Rustavi was among several cities and municipalities where the ruling party lost control of local councils during the local elections.
On 2 April, a by-election is also slated for a councillor in Batumi, which will decide control of the assembly of the second-largest city in Georgia.