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President vetoes Georgia’s constitutional changes

11 October 2017
Georgian Parliament (Facebook)

Georgia’s President Giorgi Margvelashvili vetoed on 9 October a package of constitutional amendments adopted by Parliament.

The package, with additional remarks from the president, will now return to parliament to be debated, although they have the power to override the veto.

Margvelashvili said his version of the amendments includes six core changes to the version adopted by parliament.

Parliamentary Chair Irakli Kobakhidze said on 6 October the bonus system — which would assign votes from parties that do not cross the 5% threshold to enter parliament to the winning party — will be scrapped. Electoral blocs, which were to be prohibited will continue to be allowed; the president had warned that this could cause smaller parties to disappear.

Changes regarding freedom of religion and appealing to the Constitutional Court will be ‘reviewed’.

The current draft would allow freedom of religion to be restricted for ‘public security, preventing crime, healthcare, and administration of justice or protection of rights of others’.

No agreement

However, there is no agreement on two more of the changes.

The fifth refers to the timing of a shift to a fully proportional system of electing MPs. The draft amendments envision the move taking place in 2024, while the president has suggested the changes come into force in for the next parliamentary elections in 2020.

The sixth change involves how the president is elected; the current amendments would replace direct presidential elections, while Margvelashvili has suggested that this should be decided on only once Georgia introduces a two-chamber Parliament.

According to Georgian law, the country will shift to a two-chamber parliament once its ‘territorial integrity is restored’.

Venice Commission

In their 6–7 October plenary session, the Venice Commission — an advisory body of the Council of Europe composed of independent experts in constitutional law — adopted an opinion about Georgia’s constitutional amendments. They welcomed the changes overall, but called the postponement of the entry into force of the proportional election system to October 2024 ‘undoubtedly highly regrettable’.

In addition, On 10 October, the EU Delegation to Georgia said it regretted that ‘a valuable opportunity has not been properly seized to build broader consensus around the amendments to the Constitution’. They urged all sides to ‘work together further to complete the adoption of the new Constitution’.

Georgia’s Parliament, in which the ruling Georgian Dream party enjoys a constitutional majority, passed the package of constitutional amendments in its final reading on 26 September, despite objections from the president, opposition parties, and civil society groups.

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