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Georgia’s Constitutional Commission 1st meeting

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Georgia’s Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze announced the staff of the country’s 73-member Constitutional Commission that is due to put changes in the country’s main document until April 30, in the course of four months.

The Constitutional Commission was initiated by the current ruling Georgian Dream party for the second time [firstly in 2013] in order to amend the Constitutional changes adopted under the previous ruling United National Movement government in 2010.

On December 23 Georgia’s Parliament Speaker, who chairs the Commission, announced the members of the parliamentary majority and minority, non-parliamentary opposition, NGOs, experts, the president’s representatives, government members, heads of Constitutional and Supreme Courts, president of the National Bank, public defender and several others, who would be involved in the activities of the Commission.

In particular, the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party will have 23 lawmakers in the Commission, the parliamentary opposition United National Movement - 6, the parliamentary opposition Alliance of Patriots - 2.

Salome Zourabichvili, majoritarian MP from Tbilisi’s Mtatsminda district, will be represented as an independent lawmaker in the Commission.

Representatives from four non-parliamentary opposition parties: Free Democrats, Democratic Movement-United Georgia, State for People and the Labour Party, will be involved in the Commission’s works.

These are the leading, qualified non-parliamentary opposition parties which failed to overcome 5 percent mandatory threshold to gain seats in Parliament at the October’s elections, but managed to overcome a three percent threshold and thus obtained the status of qualified subjects and chance to receive certain state financing and other privileges.

Kobakhidze also announced three representatives from the President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s administration were included in the Commission.

These were the Head of the President’s Administration, Giorgi Abashishvili; President’s Parliamentary Secretary, Anna Dolidze and the Secretary of the National Security Council, Davit Rakviashvili.

However, the President’s Administration stated they don’t intend participation in the Commission’s activities since the ruling team turned down the President’s offer the Commission to be co-chaired by him, the Prime Minister and the Parliament Speaker “for more legitimacy.”

From the Government Justice Minister Thea Tsulukiani and the government’s parliamentary secretary Shalva Tadumadze also will be present in the Commission.

It will also include the chairpersons of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, Zaza Tavadze and Nino Gvenetadze, heads of legislative and executive bodies of Adjara - Davit Gabaidze and Zurab Pataradze, heads of legislative and executive bodies of Abkhazian Autonomous Republic - Gia Gvazava and Vakhtang Kolbaia, Georgian Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili, President of the National Bank of Georgia Koba Gvenetadze and Chairperson of the State Audit Office, Lasha Tordia.

Seven NGOs - Georgian Young Lawyers Association, Transparency International Georgia, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Open Society – Georgia, Georgian National Platform, Multinational Georgia and Georgian Bar Association will participate in the Commission, as well as 13 law experts.

The first meeting of the Commission, without the representatives of the President’s administration, was held on December 24, where four working groups were created.

The working groups are: Human Rights and Judiciary, Parliament and Financial Control, President, Government and Defense Issues and the Territorial Arrangement and Local Government.

Kobakhidze stressed the only issue that was already decided and won’t be changed was the current “Parliamentary ruling model” of Georgia.

He stressed the decision over all other issues, among them how the President would be elected or what kind of electoral model the country may have, would be achieved through the “large-scaled public involvement” and the consent of the Venice Commission, for the country to have a better Constitution “once and for all.”

Meanwhile, members of the opposition parties highlighted the Georgian Dream would try to fit the Constitution to its own interests.

To avoid this, the United National Movement opposition offered joint activities and sharing of views between the opposition and the civil sector.

A representative from Free Democrats opposition in the Commission, Shalva Shavgulidze, stated one of the first solutions made by the Commission should be the change in the rule of electing the president.

Shalva Shavgulidze expressed his scepticism, said if the Parliament would say that President must be elected by Parliament and not by the population, it would be an “extremely negative change.”

Before and after approving the Commission the non-parliamentary, qualified opposition subjects protested their absence in the Commission, saying that such fact would put the legitimacy of the Commission under the question.

They also insisted a four-month period won’t be enough for providing necessary changes in the Constitution.

Responding to these claims, Kobakhidze promised if necessary the Commission’s work would be prolonged.

A law expert of the Commission Mindia Ugrekhelidze stated if it were up to him, he “would had written a new Constitution” as the Current Constitution was “amended multiple times.”

After the package of the Constitutional changes are presented by the Commission it will require the support of at least 113 lawmakers in the 150-member legislative body to come into effect.

The current ruling Georgian Dream has 116 representatives in the Parliament.