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Monday, May 15
CSOs Criticize Constitution Draft, Address Venice Commission

Four Georgian civil society organizations (CSOs), which participated in the Constitutional Reform Commission, addressed the Venice Commission on May 8 with a joint assessment on the work of the commission.

The document reflects the views of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), the Transparency International - Georgia, and the Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF).

“The purpose of the joint assessment is to provide the Venice Commission with a comprehensive overview of the working process of the Constitutional Commission together with the CSO opinions on some of the most crucial amendments introduced by the draft of the constitution,” the statement says.

The CSOs believe that the Venice Commission's opinion might be “the most effective mechanism to address the problematic amendments proposed in the constitutional draft,” given that the Parliamentary Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze “has pledged to take into consideration all recommendations of the Venice Commission”.

The statement emphasized that although the amendments bring “a number of positive changes”, some proposed amendments envisioned by the constitutional draft “cast a shadow” over these positive changes.

Electoral System

According to the draft, the parliamentary elections are held with a proportional system based on party lists. The parties would have to clear the 5% threshold to seat an MP. Controversially, the votes of those parties that would fail to clear the threshold would go to the winner, rather than get distributed proportionally among all parties that have cleared the threshold. The new constitution will also ban the establishment of party blocs ahead of elections while leaving the 5% threshold intact.

While the CSOs welcome the “scrapping of the majoritarian component”, they believe that “there are some negative provisions that outweigh the positive aspects of abolishing the majoritarian elections. Particularly problematic is the rule of allocation of the undistributed mandates along with prohibition of election blocs”.

The CSOs say that this rule “will substantially increase the risks of unfair disproportion between the percentages of votes actually gained by the party and seats that it would receive in the legislature”.

Banning electoral blocs while maintaining the 5% threshold “is likely to produce a large number of undistributed mandates, which, if allocated to a single party, could damage the political plurality and facilitate long-term concentration of power in a single ruling party”, the CSOs also stated.

Election of the President

According to the draft, the President is to be elected by the 300-member college of electors, which would include 150 MPs, as well as local and regional government representatives.

“Considering the development of democracy at this stage in Georgia, and voters’ best interests, the undersigning CSOs believe that the president should be elected by direct popular vote,” the statement reads.

The four organizations add that if indirect presidential election is still introduced, “it should only enter into force after the 2018 presidential elections, which should be held through a direct popular vote”.

Definition of Marriage

The CSOs also state that the provision that defines marriage “as a union of a man and a woman with the view to starting a family” is a “problematic issue”. “This amendment is particularly problematic given the widespread homophobia, increasing cases of hate crimes, and continuous struggle for LGBT groups to even exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly”.

The organizations believe that a ban on same-sex marriage “is particularly unreasonable” considering “that the legal prohibition of same-sex marriage already exists, while marriage equality has never been demanded by the LGBT groups”.

The CSOs also claim that “the constitutional prohibition of a theoretical chance of marriage equality is particularly concerning given that the Georgian legislation does not guarantee civil partnership for same-sex couples.”

The four organizations add that “if the constitutional amendment about marriage is adopted, the Constitution must also guarantee civil partnership for same-sex couples”.

Batumi City Hall turns down request to build second mosque

The city hall in Georgia’s second largest city of Batumi has rejected an application for permission to build a second mosque in the 150,000 strong city.

In the largely Muslim city there has been a several decades long conflict about whether to allow a second mosque. The existing mosque, Orta Jame, does not have enough space during prayer times.

As previously reported by DFWatch, the overcrowding in Orta Jame is often so great that people are forced to sit outside in the street during Friday prayer.

But the situation seemed to move closer to a solution when the Muslims purchased a plot of land in September, 2016.

The refusal by Batumi City Hall came like a bombshell.

“The state’s refusal to permit building [a mosque] is discriminatory and carries anti-Islamic connotations,” Tariel Nakaidze, chairman of Georgian Muslims Union wrote on Facebook.
(DF watch)