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No consensus over constitutional draft

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, September 4
The Georgian Dream majority and Georgia’s opposition parties have officially announced they have failed to reach an agreement on the country’s constitution, which is currently being amended.

The parties blame each other for the failure.

The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which was watching the process and providing recommendations over the changes, saidthat a planned meeting in Strasbourg on September 6 has been cancelled.

The Commission leadership explained in a special letter that Georgian political parties should achieve a consensus over the controversial issues by themselves.

The Commission also stressed that the initial constitutional draft sent to them by the ruling party was assessed positively, but later some changes were put in the bill which caused “disappointment” in the Commission.

The Venice Commission put special emphases on the Georgian Dream majority’s decision to postpone moving to a fully proportional system, referring to rejection of electing 73 majoritarian MPs in the 150-member parliament, until the 2024 parliamentary race.

The Commission says now they are waiting for the final draft of the changes and announced that their recommendations on the draft will be ready in a month.

Speaker of Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, who chaired the special, 73-member constitutional commission that drafted the changes, accuses the opposition parties of blocking the dialogue on the controversial issues.

However, he stresses the Georgian people will receive the “most refined constitution possible”.

The opposition, which demanded moving to a fully proportional elections from 2020, the direct electionof the president, the fair sharing of undistributed votes between parliamentary parties (the votes received by the parties failing in the elections), and the possibility of creating election blocs, says the majority is fitting the new constitution to its own goals.

European Georgia parliamentary minority member Levan Tarkhnishvili stated the majority was trying to split the opposition over the demands and was creating an illusion of dialogue.

“When they failed to split the opposition, who was unanimous on moving to fully proportional elections, direct presidential elections and other, they [the Georgian Dream] had to announce the dialogue failed and are now trying to shift the blame onto the opposition,” Tarkhnishvili said.

United National Movement opposition member Zaza Bibilashvili claims changing the current state leadership via elections under the amended constitution will be “extremely hard”.

The Republican non-parliamentary opposition says through ignoring the possibility of dialogue with the opposition the majority cut links with its people and the European institutions.

The Georgian Dream leadership established the first Constitutional Commission in 2013, as the authorities believed the amendments made to the constitution under the leadership of United National Movement in 2010 caused an imbalance between different state institutions.

The Commission was re-established after the 2016 parliamentary elections, as unlike the 2012 elections the Georgian Dream gained a constitutional majority last year with 116 lawmakers out of the 150-member Parliament enabling them to make changes to the country’s main legislative document.

The Constitutional Commission created last year was composed of 73 members from the ruling team, the opposition, NGOs, experts, and court representatives, to produce a draft of amendments in a four-month timeframe, which should have been followed by public discussions of the draft in various Georgian regions and Parliament itself.

In the final stage of elaborating the draft in April this year, more than half of the members quit the Commission in protest, as they disapproved of several key changes inscribed in the draft by the ruling team.

The Georgian Dream vowed “no changes will be introduced in the constitution if disapproved by the Venice Commission.”

The Venice Commission has welcomed an initial draft in which the majority accepted moving to the proportional elections from 2020.

Parliament has already voted for the constitutional changes with two, key readings.

The final technical reading is left for the autumn session, which will likely be after the Venice Commission provides its final recommendations over the draft.

The civil sector shares the opposition’s views, and says the current amended version of the constitution favours the Georgian Dream party.