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Commission approves draft of constitutional amendments

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, April 24
The State Constitutional Commission, which was initially composed of 73 persons tasked with providing key changes in the country’s main legal code, has approved the draft of constitutional changes with 43 votes for and three against.

Prior to the voting held on April 22, seven opposition parties and some NGOs quit the commission in protest, as they believed the ruling Georgian Dream authorities ignored their remarks and recommendations, and had “fitted the constitution to their own goals”.

The draft of amendments will be initiated in Parliament no later than Thursday this week, where a special commission will be created that will ensure meetings in the regions over the changes to inform people about the amendments that are being planned.

The head of the commission, Parliament Chair Irakli Kobakhidze, says as soon as the draft is initiated in the legislative body it will be sent to the Venice Commission, and Parliament will not adopt the changes until the Venice Commission provides its recommendations.

Kobakhidze vowed that earlier no changes would be brought to the constitution without the consent of the Venice Commission.

The opposition and the NGOs claim they will be in active communication with the Venice Commission to speak out about their protest over several points in the draft.

The points include the new model of electing members of parliament and the president.

The ruling team says that for the first time in the history of Georgia, the government has accepted an “unfavourable” electoral model for them, which means a full move to proportional elections and banning majoritarian elections.

Currently, 77 seats in the 150-member legislative body are allocated through the proportional, party-list system, while the remaining 73 through a majoritarian race.

However, the recently-approved draft of amendments reads that the votes of those parties that fail to clear the mandatory 5% threshold would go to the party that receives the majority of votes in the parliamentary elections, rather than be distributed proportionally among all parties that have cleared the threshold.

The NGOs and the opposition are against the change, and say this would enable the current ruling team to grab more seats in the legislative body, especially when the majority did not accept the 3% threshold instead of 5, and creating election blocs prior to the elections.

The opposition and the NGOs also stand against the indirect vote of the president by a special 300-member council composed of lawmakers and regional representations without debates, as well as a clause which states that marriage is only the voluntary union of a man and a woman.

Meanwhile, a ruling team representative, Vice Parliament Speaker Tamar Chugoshvili, says “80% of the NGOs’ and experts’ remarks were taken into account by the commission”.

The Constitutional Commission was created 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 2016, the Parliament Speaker announced that members of the parliamentary majority and minority, non-parliamentary opposition, NGOs, experts, the president’s representatives, government members, the heads of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts, the president of the National Bank, the public defender and several others, would be involved in the activities of the commission.

However, the President’s representatives initially boycotted the process, as the President’s offer over co-chairing of the commission by him, the Prime Minister and the Parliament Speaker was not considered.

The final approval of the changes, that will allegedly take place during the autumn session in Parliament, will require a constitutional majority of at least 113 votes.

However, the ruling Georgian Dream party currently has 116 MPs in the legislative body.