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Election participation law passes first hearing

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, May 10
In its first hearing, a draft constitutional change that allows select European citizens to participate in Georgian elections has passed Parliament.

“Until 1 January 2014, along with citizens of Georgia, the individuals of a certain age who were born in Georgia and have lived permanently in Georgia for the last 10 years and have EU member state citizenship have the right to take part in parliamentary or presidential elections” - the adopted legislation reads.

The initiative, introduced by the Christian Democrats (CDM), is widely considered to be inspired by the plight of Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanisvhili, whose citizenship was revoked last fall. However, there has been criticism of the bill from other opposition parties, who believe that the law was in fact the work of the administration, not the CDM.

“I want to address the Christian Democrats that we’ll agree on the changes on one condition. We must write directly that this norm will [be in place] until 1 January 2014 on presidential and parliamentary elections. The changes must be extended to citizens of EU member states, who are born in Georgia and have lived here for the last 10 years,” majority MP Pavle Kublashvili said.

The MP added that that thanks to these changes, Ivanishvili will have the right to run in the upcoming elections.

However, as Ivanishvili as remarked the following day, he has only lived in Georgia 2004, thus if the criteria are not changed in the second hearing, he will be unable to benefit .

The Christian-Democrats were unhappy with the results of the first hearing. "The National Movement did not take our initiative into consideration. The three year limit was only our demand, but other opposition parties were [too busy criticizing], [so] the Parliament sitting was just an absurd theatre,” Giorgi Targamadze, the party's leader, stated.

He noted that he does not have any information about how long Ivanishvili has lived in Georgia. "Those Parliament members linked with Ivanishvili should have had information regarding the issue and used it during the debates , we would not have called to Ivanishvili and asked it,” he said.

Targamadze says that during the second hearing the movement will try to agree on a compromised version of the changes with the United National Movement. "These discussions one more time reveal that the National Movement is a group playing with rational games and is cold-blooded; they are adopting decisions suitable only for them,” he asserted.

Such changes to the Constitution are the result of a "politically-diseased brain, which is making lots of mistakes," Georgian Dream coalition representative, Republican Davit Usupashvili, said.

According to constitutional expert Avtandil Demetrashvili , the legislation is necessary, but also temporary. "I was against writing the change into the basic text of the Constitution and I welcome that the change will be... a transitional regulation,” he commented, reinforcing the idea that the amendment was made for the benefit of one person - Ivanishvili.

Analysts have called this amendment an "ugly precedent", as the Constitution is being changed due to the refusal of the President to return Ivanishvili's citizenship - making an executive issue into a legislative one.