The Venice Commission, Council of Europe’s (CoE) advisory body for legal affairs, released its new preliminary opinion on the draft Constitution of Georgia as adopted in the second reading in June 2017, as well as on the letter submitted by the Georgian authorities to the Venice Commission on September 20, in which they committed themselves to consider new constitutional amendments.
According to the document, the Venice Commission “reiterates its previous positive assessment” of the constitutional reform, as it “completes the evolution of Georgia’s political system towards a parliamentary system,” and constitutes “a positive step towards the consolidation and improvement of the country’s constitutional order, based on the principles of democracy, the rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights.”
The Venice Commission evaluated the postponement of the entry into force of the proportional electoral system to 2024 as “highly regrettable” and “a major obstacle to reaching consensus.” It, however, noted that the commitment of the parliamentary majority made in its September 20 letter to allow party blocs, together with the one-time reduction of the election threshold to 3% at the 2020 elections “is to be welcomed,” since those amendments “aim to alleviate the negative effects of the postponement of the entry into force of the proportional election system to 2024.”
According to the preliminary opinion, the Commission “strongly welcomes the commitment of the parliamentary majority to consider abandoning the bonus system altogether and adopting the full proportional distribution system as from 2024.” “Such a system would favor pluralism in parliament and be fully in line with European standards. The Venice Commission expects that this step will not only be considered but immediately adopted,” reads the document.
The Venice Commission has also welcomed, the introduction of the requirement of a qualified majority of 2/3 of the votes of the Election Board in a presidential election; the lifetime appointment for the judges of the Supreme Court; the abolition of probationary periods for judges from 2024; and the election of the Public Defender for a longer term (6 years instead of 5) by a qualified majority in parliament.
Additional recommendations provided by the Venice Commission include removing the prohibition of “creation of political parties on territorial grounds,” reconsidering the rules limiting the role of the Constitutional Court in reviewing electoral legislation; and modifying the process of the appointment of Supreme Court judges to better guarantee their independence.
The Venice Commission adopted at its Plenary Session on June 16-17, at the request of the Parliamentary Chairman, an Opinion on the draft revised Constitution of Georgia. Shortly after the adoption of the Opinion, however, an amended version of the draft revised Constitution was submitted to the Parliament of Georgia, which adopted it at the second hearing on June 23.
The adopted version postponed the opposition-pushed and the Venice Commission-endorsed introduction of the fully proportional electoral system to 2024, instead of the initially-proposed 2020, prompting the rejection of the constitutional reform by all opposition parties, the President and non-governmental organizations.
Georgian authorities sent a repeat request to the Venice Commission opinion on September 6, following several failed attempts to renew dialogue with opposition on the constitutional reform.
On September 21, a day before the Venice Commission’s preliminary opinion and few days ahead the final vote on the draft constitution, the ruling party announced the political parties would be allowed to form electoral blocs for the next parliamentary elections in 2020 and the country would transfer to the fully proportional system from 2024 without the electoral bonus system. A legislative proposal containing these provisions will be submitted to the Parliament in the near future and it will be approved before the end of the next parliamentary session, apparently as amendments to the new constitution text that is to be adopted on September 26.