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The News in Brief

Tuesday, May 2
President, Parliamentary Chairman Clash over Constitution Reform

President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Parliamentary Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze traded accusations over the ongoing constitutional reform process.

Speaking to reporters on April 28, Irakli Kobakhidze accused Giorgi Margvelashvili of disrupting the constitutional reform process and threatened to conduct the upcoming 2018 Presidential Election through indirect ballot instead of the initially proposed direct popular election.

“We still have a great hope that compromise will not become senseless,” Kobakhidze stated, referring to the decision of the ruling party to move to indirect election procedure from 2023 only.

“Our opponents are taking incorrect steps under the guidance of the President,” Kobakhidze went on. “The President, who should be a supra-party figure in this system, reached an agreement with the political parties through the head of his administration … who met the political party representatives, as well as the so called experts, and agreed with them on how to challenge the Parliament of Georgia.”

“We still have a great hopes that the compromise will not lose its sense… but, if these processes continue, such a compromise will become senseless and we will move on to the system that is more appropriate institution-wise … [and the transfer] will simply happen relatively earlier,” the Parliamentary Chairman added.

President Margvelashvili was quick to fire back at Irakli Kobakhidze. Speaking at his “Constitution Belongs to Everyone” campaign meeting in Akhaltsikhe on April 28, Giorgi Margvelashvili accused the Parliamentary Chairman of “horsetrading” over the constitution and of “attaching internal [party] interests to the document.”

The Constitution, according to Margvelashvili, “should serve as a unifying document, instead of accumulating the ambitions of individual politicians.”

“I have never speculated with this issue and no one should ever dare to try to bargain with me over the country’s main document,” President Margvelashvili quipped. “Do not spare your efforts in vain; it is not my interest to engage in a behind-the-scene deal over the constitution.”

The President also called it “regretful” that the draft constitution was tabled “without consensus”: “all political parties in the reform commission quit the commission and the document is approved by a single political force only.”

President Giorgi Margvelashvili, who regards the reform process as a tool in the hands of the ruling party to reduce the presidential powers, has been boycotting the work of the Commission. On March 13, Margvelashvili launched the “Constitution Belongs to Everyone” campaign to engage the public in the constitutional reform process, saying that all previous changes were held behind the closed doors “in the interests of one particular political force” and that “a new tradition” for “jointly planning” the constitution should have been pursued, instead.

Margvelashvili has been outspokenly against the introduction of indirect presidential election, abolishing of the National Security Council and banning the creation of party blocs ahead of elections while leaving the 5% threshold intact.

Russian biker gang Night Wolves plans Georgia trip

The Russian biker gang Night Wolves plans to visit Georgia to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the end of World War II.

The gang is known for its support of the Kremlin, and leader Alexander Zaldostanov (“the Surgeon”) has appeared at many public events next to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Some of the over 5,000 members regularly go abroad in connection with May 9, which is the anniversary of victory on the Eastern front in WWII. Their trips often end in confrontations.

It still uncertain whether the Russian bikers will come to Georgia this time. It depends on whether the Georgian police can guarantee their safety, Irakli Kipiani, a pro-Kremlin Georgian non-governmental organization called the Union of Russian and Georgian Youth told the Rezonansi newspaper.

It was Kipiani’s NGO which invited the motorcycle gang to Georgia. He told the newspaper that they are expecting provocations by supporters of the United National Movement party.

The police will oversee the visit and respond adequately, Deputy Minister of Interior Shalva Khutsishvili said.

Altogether, 30-35 bikers are expected and their trip will include paying tribute to Georgians fallen in the war, visiting monuments dedicated to WW2 and meeting with war veterans.

In 2015, the group was barred by Poland from travelling to Berlin through its territory, while Germany revoked their Schengen visas. Several members were deported. However, some of them managed to get in.

Some of the bikers have been reported to have taken part in the war in eastern Ukraine and a sabotage action in Crimea.

The United States and other countries have included Night Wolves in their sanctions against Russia.

A handful from the motorcycle gang visited Georgia in 2015, when they clashed with members members of Tavisupali Zona (“Free Zone”), a youth group affiliated to the UNM.

Alexander Zaldostanov is rumored to have Georgian ancestry as his last name resembles the Georgian noble name of Zaldastanishvili, though he has never spoken about this himself.
(DF watch)