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Parliament to discuss controversial changes to law on political unions

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, February 24
Recent changes to the law on political unions are still disturbing civil society representatives, but government officials have stated that they are willing to take another look at the amendments.

Parliament was forced to act thanks to an organization called "It Concerns You", which was formed to demand the repeal of election laws that may disrupt the right to free expression. The group is made up of media outlets, NGOs, and concerned citizens, all hoping that Parliament will take the concerns of the public into consideration.

"We have a very positive attitude. We want to meet with majority representatives and discuss current regulations, as well as the alternate suggestions made by us,” Executive Director of International Transparency Georgia, Eka Gigauri, said.

Gigauri reiterated that the law, adopted in December, may interfere with civil rights, and grants disproportionate power to the Chamber of Control. “We think that the law creates problems for businesses and ordinary citizens. It puts too much responsibility on voters, especially in the pre-election period," she noted.

Media representatives are especially concerned about the chilling effect the law may have on a free press. "Despite the fact that there is nothing directly written in the law regarding media, there are a lot of articles which could be used [inappropriately] and media representatives... might find themselves in a difficult situation,” founder of Maesto TV, Mamuka Ghlonti, said.

"The changes to the law fundamentally oppose the principles of a democratic state,” according to Magda Popiashvili, a representative from NGO For Freedom of Choice. "We have already made a petition, and a legislative initiative has already been sent to Parliament. We hope that [with] public support, Parliament will have to discuss them. The law affects all Georgians and people should know this," she stated.

Parliamentary Speaker, Davit Bakradze, announced that Parliament is ready to discuss the law with NGOs. "Members of the parliamentary legal committee will meet NGOs [shortly]," he said, noting that the "question marks" in the law must be removed. Bakradze also emphasized that the aim of the law was not to restrict civil society. "It is important that political goals be adequately matched to legal formulations," he affirmed.

The head of the parliamentary legal committee, Pavle Kublashvili, also confirmed that Parliament is ready to discuses the law with concerned citizens.

Head of the Elections and Political Science Centre, Kakha Kakhishvili, doubts that the government will concede in this regard. "If they change the amendments, the United National Movement will face serious problems in the elections. Those changes were carried out to prevent billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili from spending money, and to create obstacles for him. Therefore, it is unlikely that the [UNM] will change their mind," he remarked.