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Election bill passes in final reading, opposition absent

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Tuesday, June 30
The Parliament of Georgia has adopted the third and final reading of the draft constitution, which changes the rules for electing the Parliament.

At the sitting of the Extraordinary Session of the Parliament on the 29th of June, 117 deputies voted for the amendments. 3 were against - former members of the majority of the Georgian Dream, non-partisan MPs Bidzina Gegidze and Alexander Erkvania and Dmanisi-Tsalka majoritarian MP Kakha Okriashvili, who is the chairman of the Georgian Dream - for the Development of Regions faction.

The adoption of the constitutional bill required the support of at least 113 MPs.

In addition to the majority of the Georgian Dream, the constitutional amendments were supported by members of the Independent Deputies, the Alliance of Patriots and Social Democrats, as well as some non-partisan MPs.

The deputies of the National Movement and European Georgia did not attend the sitting and did not take part in the voting. They cite the release of political prisoner Giorgi Rurua as part of an agreement reached with the Georgian Dream on March 8th on election issues, calling its implementation a condition for supporting constitutional changes.

Note that on 21stof June, 136 lawmakers backed constitutional changes during the first hearing. Among them were members of the opposition European Georgia, but the party immediately said it would not run in the next 2 votes without Rurua's release.

Due to the illegal detention of Giorgi Rurua, accused of illegal purchase, storage and carrying of weapons, on June 23, European Georgia did not participate in the second reading of the amendments. At the second reading, the constitutional bill had 115 supporters.

Supporters of one of the shareholders of the Main Channel, Giorgi Rurua, and representatives of the civil movement ‘Shame’ were protesting in front of the Georgian Parliament during yesterday’s hearing. They carried posters with the inscriptions: ‘Giorgi Rurua is a political prisoner,’ ‘Freedom to Giorgi Rurua.’

Protesters are demanding that the Georgian Dream government comply with an election agreement reached with the opposition on March 8th and release Giorgi Rurua from prison. The ruling party says Rurua's release could not be part of an agreement reached through foreign diplomats because no one has the right to interfere in the court's activities.

Tbilisi City Court is considering the case of Rurua, arrested in November 2019 on charges of illegal purchase, storage and carrying of weapons. Rurua, who has been remanded in custody as a measure of restraint, says the gun was planted by police.

Judge Besik Bugianishvili did not grant the motion of the defense and left Rurua in custody. Due to the lack of new circumstances, the prosecution did not share the demand to change the bail. According to the prosecutor, the interrogation of the witness at yesterday’s hearing did not reveal any news and there are still dangers of hiding Rurua or influencing witnesses.

The ruling party said that the opposition’s refusal to participate in the historic vote has once again proved ‘they are destructive.’

Most of the Georgian Dream's constitutional amendments were drafted on the basis of an agreement reached with opposition parties on March 8th. American and European diplomats participated in the negotiation process.

According to the changes, 120 deputies will be elected by the proportional system in the parliament instead of 77, and 30 will be elected by the majoritarian system instead of 73. Proportional elections will be held with a 1% threshold and the so-called Lock to rule out the formation of a parliamentary majority by a political party or electoral bloc with less than 40% support and the formation of a government independently.

This electoral system will be in effect until 2024, because according to the Constitution of Georgia, from 2024 the parliamentary elections will be held in a completely proportional system.

The Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has signed the bill of amendments to the election system, calling the constitutional changes a serious step towards democracy and stability.

President Zurabishvili also talked about pardoning Gigi Ugulava and Irakli Okruashvili. She noted that she made the decision for the purpose of maintaining stability in Georgia.

“I consider myself responsible for doing our best to ensure that we reach election day normally. For this I have taken this serious step. I made this decision because it served the stability of the country, which has been strengthened today,” Zurabishvili said.

The Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia, Archil Talakvadze said, that the constitutional amendment envisages the transition to a substantially proportional electoral system. He recalled the constitutional reform from two years ago and noted that this decision “is a continuation of our democratic reforms, which have once again proved to the public and our partners that we are ready to strengthen democracy and hold another free, democratic and transparent parliamentary election in October 2020.”

Irakli Kobakhidze, a former speaker of the Georgian parliament, says winning constitutional elections is a victory for those who want Georgia's democratic development. Kobakhidze said at a party briefing after the vote that ‘there is one loser’ today:

“This is a radical, destructive, criminal opposition that has grossly violated the March 8 agreement, refused to comply with the ambassadors' clear calls, and reaffirmed that it is an anti-state, anti-democratic and anti-Western political force.” he said.

The Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Gakharia says that after the adoption of the constitutional amendments, the priority of the majority is to hold democratic elections in the country and to meet the Western standard. “The only thing that drives us is that the country's enemies should no longer be in the parliament of Georgia's new convocation," Gakharia said.

The facilitators to the political dialogue on the passage of amendments to the electoral system issued a Joint statement, congratulating the Parliament of Georgia on adoption of Constitutional amendments designed to increase parliamentary pluralism and allow for a more representative legislature. They recognize that these amendments reflect difficult compromises by Georgia's political parties and commend those who ensured their successful passage.

“We regret the non-participation of some parties due to differences over the fulfilment of the 8 March agreement,” read the statement, urging all parties now to engage in the adoption and effective implementation of the election reforms recommended by OSCE/ODIHR. According to the facilitators of the dialogue, these much-needed reforms will help ensure a free, fair, and transparent election environment where Georgians can cast their votes freely at the ballot box.

“Upholding the commitments contained in the 8th March agreement to address actions that could be perceived as inappropriate politicization of Georgia's judicial and electoral processes remains crucial to the integrity of the country's democracy and rule of law, especially during this election period,” Diplomatic Corps wrote, pledging to continue to closely monitor these commitments in the run-up to the October elections.

The US Department of State and the co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the monitoring of Georgia, have also welcomed the ‘historic adoption’ of constitutional amendments.

The PACE co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Georgia, Titus Corlatean and Claude Kern noted, that the Assembly has consistently called for the introduction of a proportional election system in Georgia, which potentially could allow for a more pluralist and representative parliament.

The co-rapporteurs regretted that the political agreement had not resulted in a less tense and polarised political environment, calling on the sides to “seek cooperation over confrontation and to constructively pursue the implementation of the remainder of the 8th March political agreement.” They also asked all stakeholders to refrain from any statements and actions that could increase tensions and polarisation or otherwise negatively affect the environment needed for the conduct of genuinely democratic elections.