- New electoral deal sets number of MPs at 190;
- 2003 referendum sets number of MPs at 150;
- Law allows revising referendum decision only with a new referendum;
- Ruling party MP says 2003 referendum itself was illegal;
- Ruling party MP: no legal hurdle on the way to 190 MPs.
Political parties, which have agreed on electoral system reform deal, are facing a legal hurdle in their drive to implement one of the key aspects of the deal – increasing number of lawmakers from current 150 to 190, opponents of the decision have said.
Number of seats in the Parliament was reduced from 235 to 150 as a result of a referendum held simultaneously with the disputed parliamentary elections in November, 2003.
The question asked to voters in the referendum was “Do you agree to reduce the number of members of Parliament and define the number no more than 150?”; 83,5% voted in favor.
In February, 2005 Parliament passed constitutional amendment downsizing number of MPs to 150, which came into force in 2008 applying to the sitting Parliament.
Georgia’s law on referendum explicitly says that a decision, taken as a result of referendum, can only be revised or canceled through a separate, new referendum.
Although the results of 2003 parliamentary elections were partially annulled following the Rose Revolution in November, 2003, no one has ever disputed result of the referendum.
But seven and a half years later legality of a decision to hold that referendum in itself has been questioned by the ruling party.
“2003 referendum was in itself unconstitutional and it has no legal power, because changing of a law through referendum is unconstitutional,” a senior ruling party lawmaker, Akaki Minashvili, told Civil.ge on June 24.
He was citing article 74 of the Georgian Constitution which says that “the referendum shall not be held with the view of adopting or repealing law.” The question asked in 2003 referendum was consequently requiring amending of the law, not “adopting or repealing” the one. But “amendment” to a law itself has a status of being a separate law.
MP Minashvili said that when the Parliament amended the constitution in 2005, downsizing MP numbers to 150, that decision was not formally based on the referendum results, but was a separate decision of the Parliament formally not related to the referendum result.
This is the first time since the 2003 referendum when its legality has been questioned. No one has ever challenged holding of 2003 referendum or its result in the Constitutional Court.
President Saakashvili himself was a strong supporter of reducing number of lawmakers to 150.
In his annual address to the Parliament on February 10, 2005 Saakashvili called on the lawmakers to pass constitutional amendments putting number of MPs in line with the 2003 referendum decision.
“2,300,000 voters said [in 2003 referendum] that the number of MPs should be no more than 150 and if we fail to implement this, it will be humiliation of these voters,” Saakashvili said on February 10, 2005.
Seven days later, on February 17, 2005, the Parliament endorsed a constitutional amendment downsizing the Parliament. On that day, President Saakashvili said: “I am glad that the Georgian Parliament, all the factions, supported the reduction of [number of] MPs from current 235 to 150… Georgia has a Parliament, which listens to its own people.”
In March, 2008, amid debates over the electoral system, Saakashvili suggested possibility of increasing of number of MPs at the expense of adding additional seats elected through party-list, proportional contest. He, however, stressed at the time that revision of the 2003 referendum result would only be acceptable in case of a cross-party consensus.
“You know that the referendum said there should be 150 lawmakers, but if this [increase in the number of MPs] leads to national accord and consensus among the parties, we are ready to explain to the people that it is worth doing it. But it can only happen if all the political parties agree to it,” Saakashvili said on March 18, 2008.