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Government Dodges Referendum Bullet over Increase in Number of MPs

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, December 1
The parliamentary majority party, the United National Movement, is waiting for further amendments to the constitution. An increase from 150 MPs to 190 in a new parliament is proposed. The issue has been already on the agenda for several months and invokes a range of emotions. The ruling power states that the increase of MPs number was initiated by the opposition, however most of the opposition as well as civil society dispute this.

Since the ruling party exercises an absolute majority in the parliament, the introduction of any type of amendments to the constitution passes without any problems. The issue here though is that 150 was the number of MPs decided on and adopted during a referendum on November 2, 2003. Constitutionally, only a new referendum can change the decision of an older referendum. The ruling party realizes that if it holds a new referendum on the question of the increase of MPs it is unlikely to receive public support. So, the authorities are annulling the results of the 2003 November referendum stating that it is not valid due to the fact that any referendum must be carried out over the entire territory of the country and that the referendum was not held in the two breakaway regions of Georgia and is therefore null and void.

Of course this explanation does not satisfy everybody neither in the opposition nor civil society. They think that if the 2003 referendum was illegal then why wasn't that announced earlier in 2004 or at another time. The increase of the numbers of MPs is mostly in the interests of the ruling party, because according to the new amendments there will be an extra ten majoritarian (directly elected) candidates and as is known majoritarian seats are won by the ruling party representatives or supporters. Meanwhile, those opposition parties which support this move hope to get as many of their members as possible into the parliament.

The 'invalid referendum' justification is a poor excuse by the government not to take the issue to the people. It might even backfire. During the same 2003 referendum, it was also confirmed that the Georgian population supports the country’s NATO aspirations overwhelmingly. The Georgian authorities today often use this fact to confirm the Georgian people's choice for NATO integration. If the results of the referendum concerning the number of MPs will be annulled then support for Georgia’s NATO aspiration also will be annulled automatically. Will the government also seek to change that also?