Public discussion on constitutional amendments in Kutaisi, May 5, 2017. Photo: Parliament of Georgia
Nationwide public discussions on the proposed draft of constitutional amendments started from Kutaisi on May 5.
Public discussions - a formal procedure required for any constitutional amendment - will be run by a group of nine member organizational commission consisting of two lawmakers from the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG), two lawmakers from the Movement for Liberty-European Georgia, one lawmaker from the Alliance of Patriots, two constitutional experts, one CSO representative (Transparency International Georgia) and one parliamentary staff member.
Public discussions will be held in eleven cities across Georgia (Kutaisi, Ambrolauri, Ozurgeti, Batumi, Zugdidi, Akhaltsikhe, Gori, Telavi, Mtskheta, Rustavi and Tbilisi). The draft will then be voted by the Parliament.
President on Board
The Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia and President Giorgi Margvelashvili struck a deal on Margvelashvili’s participation in public discussions on May 4, following four month long uncertainty over the President’s involvement in the constitutional reform process.
Margvelashvili, who spoke against the reform process on numerous occasions, portraying it as a tool in the hands of the ruling party to reduce the presidential powers, boycotted the work of the Commission and launched the “Constitution Belongs to Everyone” campaign to engage the public in the constitutional reform process separately from the Parliament-run reform commission.
In mid-December, however, when the Constitution Reform Commission was established, the President’s administration stated that despite his boycott, the President would join the nationwide discussions.
Pikria Chikhradze, Margvelashvili’s political secretary, reiterated the pledge on May 3, saying that the President was expecting an invitation to participate in the nationwide discussions. Chikhradze added that the President would announce his decision once the Parliament would settle on the commission composition and the rules of its functioning.
GDDG MP and Parliamentary Vice Speaker Tamar Chugoshvili was the first to respond to the President’s administration on May 4. “We would like to invite the President for nationwide discussions,” Chugoshvili quipped. “I would welcome if the Parliamentary Chairman and the President jointly introduce the constitutional changes to the population and speak to them on constitutional changes together.”
Chugoshvili also noted that “in principle, it could be possible” to combine the nationwide discussions and the President’s “Constitution Belongs to Everyone” campaign.
Parliamentary Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze repeated the offer on May 4, saying that the ruling party was “absolutely open” to President Margvelashvili’s participation.
“Nationwide public discussions imply communication of diverse positions to our society. We have our opinions on certain issues, which we have reflected in the constitutional amendments. At [nationwide] discussions we should introduce our opinions together and discuss it together with the public. We are absolutely open for it and we hope that the President of Georgia will also share our position,” Irakli Kobakhidze stated.
Speaking to reporters late on May 4 following the meeting with Tamar Chugoshvili and GDDG MP Mamuka Mdinaradze, Giorgi Abashishvili, head of President Margvelashvili’s administration, confirmed that the President would participate in public discussions, but added that he would miss the first public discussion in Kutaisi, citing a scheduling conflict on May 5. “We agreed on all core principles, on all technical matters,” he added.
Political Parties Boycott, Launch Separate Outreach Campaigns
Only three political parties - the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, the Movement for Liberty-European Georgia and the Alliance of Patriots - are present in the organizational commission for public discussions. They are, therefore, the only political parties to present their views before the public during the nationwide discussions.
Despite European Georgia’s presence in the commission, the party has launched a separate door-to-door campaign to collect signatures demanding a plebiscite on abolishing the direct presidential election and the introduction of the new electoral system, according to which, the votes of the parties that fail to cross the threshold would go to the winner.
“We will visit all towns, all villages and collect the signatures and present these signatures to the Government. We will make it inconvenient [for the ruling party] in the international arena, so that this harmful decision is not legitimized and I hope that, at the end, we will manage to get a better constitution and prevent the Georgian Dream from tailoring the constitution to itself,” Gigi Ugulava, one of European Georgia’s leaders and former Tbilisi mayor, said on May 4.
Around 30 opposition groups, which issued a joint declaration on May 1, launched a separate public campaign as well.
The United National Movement, one of the parties in the “Protect the Constitution” campaign, held the first campaign meeting in the streets of Tbilisi on May 5, reaching out to citizens on the constitutional reform process.
Nika Melia, one of the leaders of the United National Movement, said that UNM, along with other parties, plans to conduct “a large scale campaign” in Tbilisi and across the country. “We should reach out to people instead of the illusory participation in the meetings held by Parliamentary Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze today,” Melia noted referring to the public discussion in Kutaisi.
“Each and every group should mobilize as much as possible to prevent Bidzina Ivanishvili (former Prime Minister) from achieving his goals, because this is not a problem of tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, this is a problem of next decades. The constitution, which is expected to be approved by the Georgian Dream party, contradicts to the key principles of democracy and undermines the statehood,” Nika Melia noted.