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Opposition 8 split leads to referendum debate

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, June 30
The agreement reached between the ruling party and a small element of oppositional parties regarding election reform, has further strained relations between the authorities and opposition representatives in the country. The main source controversy on this occasion is related with one of the main points of the agreement on an increase of the number of MPs elected to the Parliament.

As it is written in the document signed recently, the number of MPs should be increased from 150 to 190. The number of seats in the Parliament was reduced from 235 to 150 as a result of a referendum held simultaneously with the disputed parliamentary elections in November, 2003. The question asked to voters in the referendum was “Do you agree with reducing the number of members of Parliament and setting a limit of no more than 150?”; 83,5% voted in favor and in February, 2005 Parliament passed a constitutional amendment downsizing the number of MPs to 150, which came into force in 2008 in the sitting Parliament. Georgia’s law on referendum explicitly says that a decision, taken as a result of referendum, can only be revised or canceled through a separate, new referendum. Although the results of the 2003 parliamentary elections were partially annulled following the Rose Revolution in November, 2003, no one has ever disputed the result of the referendum.

But seven and a half years later the legality of a decision to hold that referendum in itself has been questioned by the ruling party, “The 2003 referendum was in itself unconstitutional and it has no legal power, because changing of a law through referendum is unconstitutional,” a senior ruling party lawmaker, Akaki Minashvili, said. He was citing article 74 of the Georgian Constitution which says that “the referendum shall not be held with the view of adopting or repealing law.” The question asked in the 2003 referendum was consequently requiring an amendment of the law, not “adopting or repealing” one. But the “amendment” to a law itself has a status of being a separate law. MP Minashvili said that when the Parliament amended the constitution in 2005, downsizing MP numbers to 150, that decision was not formally based on the referendum results, but was a separate decision of the Parliament, technically unrelated to the referendum result.

The attitude has been shared by analyst Gia Nodia , who has mentioned that from a legal viewpoint the increase or decrease in the number of MPs is dependant on the parliament’s decision, “based on the constitution, parliament could make such a decision without any referendum, the fact that a referendum was held it imposes some problems, however from a purely legal viewpoint, this issue should be solved by the Parliament itself.”

The law demands that the referendum results be changed only through a referendum, member of opposition Our Georgia Free Democrats, Irakli Chikovani said, “the change of the number of the members of the parliament is an issue of referendum and people decide it.”

Chairperson of Young Lawyers Association, Tamar Chugoshvili concurs, “it is written in law, that changing the results of the referendum or their abolishment is only possible trough another referendum, the Parliament has no legal right to change it.”

According to the Chair of Central Election Commission, Zurab Kharatishvili, holding of a new referendum could cost up to GEL 20 million.