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Opposition storms out as parliament passes constitutional reforms in Georgia

26 September 2017
Georgian Parliament (wikimedia.org)

Georgia’s Parliament passed a package of constitutional amendments with 117 votes to 2 in its third and final reading on 26 September, despite objections from the president, opposition parties, and civil society groups.

Parliamentary opposition parties the United National Movement and European Georgia boycotted the vote. Members of both parties stormed out of parliament calling the vote a ‘farce’.

The changes will introduce a fully proportional system for electing MPs after 2024 while severely limiting the powers of the president starting from 2023.

[Read on OC Media: Georgia’s constitutional changes explained]

A number of civil society groups, opposition parties, as well as and president have opposed the changes, claiming that the new constitution does not guarantee a balance between the branches of government.

In a symbolic move, President Giorgi Margvelashvili refused to convene a special parliamentary sitting to discuss the amendments on 25 September, however Parliamentary Chair Irakli Kobakhidze claimed parliament were still authorised to assemble on Tuesday.

‘This is a political statement from the president’, the president’s Parliamentary Secretary Ana Dolidze said on 25 September, claiming the amendments had ‘a number of flaws’.

Mamuka Mdinaradze, head of the ruling Georgian Dream parliamentary faction, hailed the new amendments on 26 September. ‘For several years, my friends and I will be proud with today’s decision, because starting today, Georgia will have a European constitution, oriented towards national interests’, he said.

Parliament adopted the revised constitution in its first and second readings in late June.

Venice Commission recommendations

The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe composed of independent experts in constitutional law, published a list of recommendations on the draft amendments on 19 June. Parliament adopted the amendments unchanged in their first hearing three days later.

According to local media reports, parliament voted without an extended discussion.

Head of the Commission Gianni Buquicchio said in June he was disappointed that the political process surrounding the changes was at a ‘dead end’.

Georgian Dream released a statement on 1 September claiming that ‘counterproductive steps from the opposition made it impossible to[…] continue dialogue’.

Buquicchio issued a statement the same day, encouraging parliament to make changes in the light of ‘dialogue with all Georgian political parties’ before finally adopting the revised draft.

On 12 September, Parliamentary Chair Irakli Kobakhidze said at an international conference in Tbilisi that the ruling party was ‘ready to give another chance’ to opposition parties, but added he was not optimistic.

‘One-party constitution’

On 20 September, the president and 20 opposition parties, both parliamentary and non-parliamentary, presented draft constitutional changes to Georgian Dream for consideration. Kobakhidze claimed their position ‘totally mismatched the Venice Commission’s assessment’.

Opposition and civil society groups have accused the government of imposing a ‘one-party constitution’. In response, four Parliamentary parties elected as part of the party lists of the Georgian Dream coalition, the Conservative Party, Social-Democrats, Greens, and Industrialists made a statement on 25 September claiming ‘it is a lie to say that the new constitution is adopted with the consent of only one political party’.

Georgian Dream has enjoyed a constitutional majority in Parliament with 115 of 150 MPs since the 2016 parliamentary elections.

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