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Manipulating the Constitution for one person

By Messenger Staff
Friday, May 11
In the near future, Parliament will adopt yet another amendment to the Constitution that has some analysts crying foul.

On the whole, the government is criticized for too frequently and too hastily amending the Constitution, but this most recent change has provoked a special kind of concern. It is a draft bill that would allow Georgian-born EU citizens the right to participate in elections - everything from voting to being a Member of Parliament. This has not only been identified as a potential security risk, but many are angry because the legislation is clearly being enacted only for the benefit of one person - Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Instead of granting him Georgian citizenship, which could be done very easily by President Mikheil Saakashvili, a constitutional change is being prepared. Ever since Ivanishvili declared his political intentions the matter of his citizenship has been problematic. First, the President deprived him and his wife of their Georgian citizenship since they also held Russian and French passports. This was done only in an attempt to disqualify Ivanishvili from politics. But he has proved himself a tough guy and continued to fight for his rights. He applied for naturalization but was refused on a technicality. The Georgian people overwhelmingly support his participation in the election, as do Georgia’s Western allies. So, the government decided to retreat - but not in the simplest (or most humbling) of ways. Instead, the Christian-Democrats proposed this constitutional amendment. The government was supportive (some suspect because it had written the bill with the Christian-Democrats) and so the United National Movement (UNM) supported the initiative and added that it would only be valid for three years. All this manipulation was done in Parliament by the UNM without mentioning Ivanishvili’s name, saying instead the amendment is to attract Georgians who have emigrated and received foreign citizenships.

On May 9, Ivanishvili noted that he is still unable to qualify under the new rules as he has only permanently resided in Georgia since 2004; the law states that an EU citizen must have lived in Georgia for the preceding 10 years. The UNM reacted immediately, saying that it will adjust the criteria to fit Ivanishvili's needs. Meanwhile, Ivanishvili's lawyer and his supporters have begun a legal case to restore their leader's legal rights to become a Georgian citizen. Ivanishvili himself is quite confident in his ability to become Prime Minister, even if the Constitution makes clear that both that position and the Speaker of Parliament must be citizens. Individuals with dual citizenship cannot hold this position. So, even with the new amendments in place, he could only be elected as an MP. What that means for Ivanishvili's campaign - and his party, if they win a majority this fall - is still open for speculation.