Legal advocacy group, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), called on the authorities and some opposition parties, which joined electoral system reform deal, “to show respect” towards 2003 referendum downsizing seats in Parliament and not to increase number of MPs from 150 to 190 without holding a new referendum.
One of the key parts of an electoral system reform deal, signed by the ruling National Movement and several other parties on June 27, envisaging increasing number of lawmakers has triggered debates with opponents saying that such increase will contravene 2003 referendum result in which voters said number of MPs should not be more than 150. Georgia’s law on referendum says, that a decision, taken as a result of referendum, can only be revised or canceled through new, separate referendum.
Debates focus on legal interpretations of various provisions of legislature, mainly of law on referendum and the constitution.
Key argument put forth by those in favor of increasing number of MP seats without holding a new referendum is that 2003 referendum in itself was unconstitutional, thus void, because the Constitution says “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.
GYLA, which like some other legal experts including ex-chairman of Constitutional Court Avtandil Demetrashvili disagrees with such interpretation of the law, said in a statement on July 1, that no matter of any argument decision of 2003 referendum would be deemed legal “until the contrary is proven through rules set by the law.”
In particular, according to the referendum law, the only body eligible to cancel a referendum result is the Constitutional Court.
“Therefore, no matter what the argument the Georgian Parliament may have in respect of illegality of  referendum, its result will be deemed to be legal until it is void by the Constitutional Court,” GYLA said.
But the deadline for appealing 2003 referendum result to the Constitutional Court has long expired. The law on Constitutional Court says that an appeal with a request to annul a referendum result can be filed only within seven days after the Central Election Commission announces referendum results.
“GYLA calls on the authorities and the opposition to show respect towards the will of people expressed in the November 2, 2003 referendum. If there is a willingness to change the referendum result, it should be done as envisaged by the law, in particular by the law on referendum… which says, that ‘a decision taken as a result of referendum can either be changed or canceled only through referendum’,” GYLA said in the statement.
Davit Usupashvili, now leader of opposition Republican Party, which declined to join the electoral system reform deal, and back in 2003 a civil society activist was strongly against of holding that referendum. As a legal expert Usupashvili at the time published several newspaper articles arguing that amending of a constitution was an exclusive right of Parliament and putting the issue on referendum was unconstitutional.
Usupashvili still believes that 2003 referendum on downsizing the Parliament was not constitutional. He told Civil.ge on June 30, that from the legal point of view “it is possible” to increase number of MPs through constitutional amendments by the Parliament, but it would be “wrong from the political point of view”. He said the authorities should instead hold a plebiscite on the issue – same as a referendum, but unlike the latter a result of plebiscite is legally non-binding.