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Free Democrats say Gov’t may deal with ‘small parties’ over constitution

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, August 31
The leader of the Free Democrats non-parliamentary opposition party, Shalva Shavgulidze, states that the Georgian Dream government is trying to deal with some “small opposition parties” to adopt the constitutional changes they wish amid the appeal of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe for a large-scale public consensus regarding the amended laws.

Shavgulidze, who represents a party which was quit by many of its leaders after last year’s parliamentary elections, claims the New Rights non-parliamentary opposition and some other “small parties” may accept the government’s offer over retaining the majoritarian elections for 2020 at the expense of a lowered election threshold and a possibility to create election blocs.

“After reaching such a deal, the government will say that they achieved a consensus with the opposition parties,” Shavgulidze said.

He stressed that the key demands of the opposition are rejecting the majoritarian elections for 2020 and the direct election of the president.

Shavgulidze said the opposition will be prepared to support the amended constitution only after the demands are accepted.

In response, the head of the New Rights Movement, Mamuka Katsitadze, said the opposition must be devoted to the demands they jointly agreed to in April this year.

He said the demands included the rejection of the majoritarian elections, the direct election of the president, the fair sharing of votes received by parties failing to overcome the election barrier between parliamentary parties, and the retention of the possibility to create election blocs.

“We must push forward all the demands when holding meetings in Georgia or in Strasbourg with the Venice Commission and not one or two demands,” Katsitadze said.

He also said it was a “bit awkward” when Shavgulidze named the New Rights as a small party, when “no one knows what or who is left from the Free Democrats,” added Katsitadze.

The Parliamentary and non-parliamentary parties plan to write a letter to the Venice Commission to inform them about the government’s attempt “to draft a constitution which would be in their own interests.”

The Georgian Dream faction, for its part, accuses the opposition of disrupting a dialogue to achieve an agreement over controversial constitutional issues.

The Georgian Dream party launched their constitution amendments in 2013, as they believed the changes made to the country’s main legal code adopted under the United National Movement leadership in 2010 created misbalance between key state institutions.

However, in 2013 the Georgian Dream party did not have the constitutional majority it enjoys now; after last year’s parliamentary elections the Georgian Dream emerged with 116 MPs in Parliament, and so renewed its efforts to change the constitution and vowed that no changes would be made if they were disapproved of by the Venice Commission.

The Parliament of Georgia has already adopted changes to the constitution with its two readings, which means that only a final technical reading is left in the legislative body before the final approval of the changes which reads moving to the fully proportional election after 2020, electing the president by a special council after 2018, abolishing election blocs, and giving undistributed votes to the party receiving the most seats in Parliament.

Former Parliament Speaker and now the founder of the Movement for Building opposition party, David Usupashvili, says if the government wanted a consensus over the constitution they would not have adopted the changes with two key readings in three days.