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The beginning of constitutional changes

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, July 1
What has been talked about for a long time became a reality last week- the constitutional amendments have been passed in two readings, but the dispute over the implementation of the March 8 agreement continues. Relations between the old and new opposition of the Georgian Dream have been strained due to the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Until recently, there were suspicions that the Georgian Dream would continue to push for constitutional changes, blaming the parliamentary opposition, the United National Movement and European Georgia, who refused to participate until Giorgi Rurua’s release from prison. On June 19, political dialogue mediators Kelly Degnan, Carl Hartzel, and Hubert Knirsch, heads of diplomatic missions in the United States, the European Union, and Germany, issued a joint statement in Georgia urging the parties to fully implement the March 8th agreement amendments. In such a situation, European Georgia decided to support the first reading of the constitutional amendments, as the failure of the first reading of the constitutional amendments meant the end of the whole process and the eventual failure of the electoral reform, hence all the results. At the extraordinary session of the Parliament on June 21, with 136 votes to 5, the constitutional amendments were adopted at the first reading. At the same time, the members of the European Georgia stated that the precondition for supporting them with the second and third readings of the legislative initiative is the release of Giorgi Rurua, which the Georgian Dream is not going to do. Therefore, at the plenary session on June 23rd, only 115 deputies supported the constitutional amendments, which was more than one vote over the minimum required amount. Georgian Dream accuses the parliamentary opposition of irresponsibility and says it will be able to pass constitutional changes without them. The constitutional amendments will be adopted in the third reading on June 29th, and the new electoral system will become a reality about four months before the elections. However, there is still talk of a possible postponement of the elections for December, and the reason for this is the epidemic, the second wave of which is expected in Autumn.

As a result of the constitutional changes. In the next parliamentary elections, 120 out of 150 deputies will be elected by a proportional system (instead of 77), and by a majoritarian system - by 30 (instead of 73).The 5% threshold required to enter parliament will be changed to 1%; also, a party that fails to get 40% of the vote will not be able to form a one-party parliament majority.

On the one hand, the defeat of the Georgian Dream and the end of Bidzina Ivanishvili's rule motivate the opposition to unite, while on the other hand, proportional elections and a 1% threshold make almost everyone want to act independently. Mikheil Saakashvili's call for a joint list of the opposition is not considered. The United Opposition, which does not include all opposition parties, was able to agree on the names of eight general MPs in Tbilisi.

Pre-election new political entities are trying to gain their niche. Giga Bokeria and Gigi Ugulava, leaders of European Georgia, and Aleko Elisashvili, who formed the party Citizen, have confronted each other. Elisashvili considers the rules established in Georgian politics to be dirty and immoral and states that he will act in accordance with the moral principles and will protect the interests of the citizens. The controversy on the opposition wing allows the Georgian Dream to claim that the opposition is trapped in a deadlock, and that it's ‘full of criminals’ for supporting Giorgi Rurua.

However, the main concern of the Georgian Dream is to prove that Bidzina Ivanishvili does not support pro-Russian policies in Georgia. A document prepared by the Republican Research Committee, signed by 13 congressmen and published on June 10, states that Ivanishvili is a ‘close ally’ of Putin and is “involved in destabilizing Georgia in Russia's favor.” The lobbying company is trying to disprove this assessment, which will try to convince the congressmen. However, in the opinion of the opposition, no lobbyist, no matter the pay, will be able to change the current reality.

Russia hasn’t forgotten about the Georgian journalist Giorgi Gabunia. Russian MP Alexander Sherin said that he should be held accountable for insulting Putin “in accordance with the Russian law.” It was revealed with the help of Ukrainian special services that a killer, sent by Kadyrov, was allegedly planning to assassinate the journalist. The opposition demands that the government protects Gabunia from such a threat and, in general, appropriately responds to cynical statements and actions taken by Russia.
(Translated from Georgian by Mariam Mchedlidze)