Tbilisi City Council, Sakrebulo, was on March 29 a scene of political wrangling between Georgian Dream and UNM with the latter securing maintaining Sakrebulo’s chairmanship for at least next three months.
UNM dominance in the capital city’s 50-seat council (currently there are actually 47 members in Tbilisi Sakrebulo), where President Saakashvili’s party won 39 seats in 2010 local elections , has been shaken following the October parliamentary elections as up to dozen of its members quit UNM faction in Sakrebulo. But unlike in many other local town councils across the country, in Tbilisi Sakrebulo UNM still retains majority.
Some former UNM members switched to factions, where Georgian Dream members are united, and others preferred to remain out of any faction. After the October parliamentary elections, GD faction in Tbilisi Sakrebulo was also joined by some of those members, who previously were with the Christian-Democratic Movement.
UNM, which claims that quitting of its Sakrebulo faction by some of its members is a result of “campaign of pressure” by the new authorities, initiated at March 29 session of the council a proposal to vote out current chairman of Sakrebulo Zaal Samadashvili, who is UNM member.
Still having a majority in Sakrebulo, it was guaranteed for UNM that its member would not have been ousted from the chairmanship and initiating Samadashvili’s dismissal in fact aimed at retaining for him this seat for at least next three months. According to Sakrebulo’s regulations, its members have no right to initiate dismissal of chairman within three months after similar proposal was voted down. As a result even if more members quit UNM and the latter loses majority, members of Sakrebulo, who are now affiliated with the Georgian Dream, will not be able to vote out Samadashvili and appoint their candidate as new chairman of Sakrebulo for next three months.
During heated arguments, when at times some Sakrebulo members were shouting at each other, GD members were insisting on removing UNM’s proposal from the agenda; some of them claimed that it was initiated with violation of procedural rules and others accusing UNM of “staging a farce”. The proposal was put on vote and, as expected, voted down.
Tbilisi Mayor, Gigi Ugulava, who faces court trial over charges of misspending public funds, welcomed the vote result and said on March 29 that GD Sakrebulo members’ “dreams to come true are now delayed for at least three months.”
Earlier on March 29, before the session, chairman of UNM faction in Tbilisi Sakrebulo, Koki Ionatamishvili, and Sakrebulo chairman Zaal Samadashvili, announced that seven of UNM Sakrebulo members were summoned by Finance Ministry’s investigations service for interrogation; they said that it was part of the new authorities campaign of pressure and intimidation on UNM members, which aimed at forcing them to switch sides in favor of Georgian Dream.
UNM lawmaker, Mikheil Machavariani, said on March 29 that GD was desperately trying to gain majority in Sakrebulo in order to then also extend its control over the executive branch of local government in Tbilisi, led by Mayor Gigi Ugulava.
One of the issues on which the new government has faced criticism from some local civil society groups was developments surrounding local self-governance bodies across the country. Since change of government after the October 1 parliamentary elections, heads of local municipalities (gamgebeli) in 46 provincial districts out of total 69 have been replaced, according to the February report by International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED). Chairmen of local town councils, Sakrebulos, in 24 municipalities have also been replaced. The process was accompanied by protest rallies of Georgian Dream activists in 28 municipalities demanding resignation of heads of local municipalities. In 24 of those cases, according to the same report, protests grew into “illegal actions”, involving breaking into the municipal buildings or blocking these buildings and barring local officials from performing their duties.
A fact-finding mission from the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe visited Georgia in late February. At its session on March 19 in Strasbourg, the Congress said that reported incidents involving pressure on local elected representatives to resign their posts or change their party affiliation, “have put local democracy in danger.”
“They indicate a flawed perception (both on the part of the public and of the politicians) of local government as being directly dependent on national politics, bringing with it an expectation that changes in the central government should immediately be reflected in local government, regardless of the mandates obtained through democratic local elections,” the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe said and called on the Georgian government “to ensure the autonomy and independence of local authorities and democratically elected representatives, so that national election results do not influence local government representative structure.”
The Congress’ rapporteurs also note that the current Georgian government was showing a clear political will to implement a substantial reform aimed at increased local autonomy.