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Parliament adopts constitutional amendments

By Khatia Kardava
Thursday, September 28
On September 26, Parliament approved the draft amendments to the Constitution of Georgia with the third hearing. The revised constitutional amendments were adopted with 117 votes, against 2 . Thus, a ten-month process of constitutional reform has been completed.

The amendments made to the Constitution will come into force after the 2018 presidential elections, after which the country will move to a classical parliamentary model.

One of the key changes in the constitutional amendments is the transition from the mixed electoral system to the proportional electoral system, although the proportional electoral system will be launched for the parliamentary elections in 2024. For the next elections scheduled for 2020 the existing mixed electoral system will be kept, however, the election threshold will be 3%.

According to the newly adopted constitutional amendments, the president will be elected indirectly. The president will serve for five years and the same person shall be elected as President twice. In addition, the eligibility age for the post shifts from 35 to 40. A presidential candidate should have lived in Georgia for at least 15 years, however, the requirement that the candidate should have resided in the country for the past three years prior to elections is no longer required. Some restrictions are posed to the rights of the head of state, President no longer ensures “functioning of state bodies within the scope of his/her powers granted by the Constitution” and does not have a right “to request particular matters to be discussed at the Government session and participate in the discussion.”

Another novelty in the constitution is the abolition of the National Security Council and formation of the Defense Council.

The adoption of the new constitution was preceded by the 13-page preliminary conclusion of the Venice Commission published on September 22.

According to the document, the Venice Commission “reiterates its previous positive assessment” of the constitutional reform, as it “completes the evolution of Georgia’s political system towards a parliamentary system,” and constitutes “a positive step towards the consolidation and improvement of the country’s constitutional order, based on the principles of democracy, the rule of law and protection of fundamental rights. ”

In the document, postponing the proportional electoral system to enter into force in 2024 was evaluated as “highly regrettable” and “a major obstacle to reaching consensus.”

The opposition and ruling team perceive the preliminary conclusion of the Venice Commission differently. The ruling team maintains the conclusion of the Venice Commission's preliminary report is positive. The opposition, on contrary, considers the document published by the Commission is critical.

The third hearing of constitutional amendments proved to be quite tense. Some critical remarks were made by MPs. As a sign of protest, representatives of National Movement and European Georgia left the session and did not take part in the voting process.

The opposition parties and the president’s administration assess the constitution as a one-party constitution, thus, they believe it will not have a political legitimacy.

According to several NGOs, the ruling team ignored all recommendations of the Venice Commission, political parties and non-governmental organizations and developed the constitutional draft on a single basis.

In response, a Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Issues, Eka Beselia spoke about the concessions from the ruling team. She said that the statement, as if the Georgian Dream is violating the constitution, is ‘unfair.’

Speaker of Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze said the new constitution is “a very sophisticated constitution.”

The next question is the one that has been circulating for quite some time by the President’s administration and MPs, it is whether President Giorgi Margvelashvili will use his right to veto the constitutional amendments. In this case, another long journey for new rounds of discussions may start.