Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs, has reiterated its recommendation to Georgia that revising constitution with two-thirds of parliament majority with two separate votes divided by three month period would be the best option at this stage.
A lawmaker from the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority group, Vakhtang Khmaladze, who chairs legal affairs committee, signaled that the proposal is acceptable.
Rule of revising constitution has been changed twice since 2010, but these changes were not yet applied in practice because amendments were made into a new constitution, which has yet to be enforced, scheduled after a newly elected president takes office. The rule, which is currently in force, envisages passing of a constitutional amendment with two-thirds majority without any cooling off period.
When the new constitutional provisions, expected to go into force after the presidential election, were passed in October 2010, the rule envisaged passing of any new constitutional amendment after the 2013 presidential election with two-thirds majority but in two votes in an interval of three months. At the time the Venice Commission said that although such system was providing “limited protection of constitutional stability by requiring two subsequent votes after a cooling off period of three months”, nevertheless this rule was “a step forward, which is probably the best possible option at this stage.”
But in late 2011 the previous Parliament again amended this provision and introduced a new threshold by increasing it to three-fourths majority, plus keeping the rule of two votes separated by a period of “at least three months”.
In June, 2013 the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority, proposed a draft envisaging revision of this rule and keeping of two-thirds majority (100 MPs) without any cooling off period in the new constitution, which will go into force after the presidential election. GD thinks three-fourths majority (113 MPs) is unreasonably high threshold. The UNM parliamentary minority group, which was in the majority in the previous Parliament, is strongly against of the proposal.
In its recommendation on the matter, adopted by the Venice Commission last week and released on October 15, the Council of Europe’s advisory body actually reiterates its opinion on the issue, which it tabled back in 2010.
It said that there is no “magic formula” and the main challenge is to balance the requirements of rigidity and flexibility; the point of balance, the Venice Commission said, may be different from one state to another depending, among other factors, on political context and constitutional culture.
It, however, also noted: “The fact that the Georgian constitution is revised on important issues - even including the revision procedure - modified recently (2010 and 2011) and that these recent amendments are repealed even before they came into force, suggests that the current amendment process, which would re-enter into force because of the repeal, may not be rigid enough for the harmonious development [of] the state and the Georgian society, in the medium and long term.”
Reiterating its previous recommendation on the issue, the Venice Commission said that it considers the system of “a single vote by 2/3 majority of the total number of MPs as insufficiently protective” and considers the introduction of a double vote separated by a period of three months as probably the best option at this stage. It also said that "removal of the two subsequent votes without any measure to compensate but combined with a return to the 2/3 majority requirement can only be considered as a step back."
“I do not see a problem in having 2/3 majority with two votes in a three-month interval,” GD MP Vakhtang Khmaladze said on October 16.
The Parliament is now on recess till October 30, related to the October 27 presidential election. If the Parliament fails to pass a constitutional amendment before the inauguration of new president, it will require three-fourths majority in two separate votes with three-month interval for endorsing any constitutional change.