Parliament of Georgia, September 26, 2017. Photo: parliament.ge
The Parliament of Georgia approved the draft constitution on its third and final reading at its special sitting on September 26 with 117 lawmakers voting in favor and two against it. Opposition lawmakers did not take part in the vote.
Under the new constitution, direct presidential elections are to be abolished from 2024. The country will transfer to fully proportional parliamentary representation and the electoral blocs will no longer be allowed from 2024 as well.
Parliamentary Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze, who led the constitutional reform process, told the MPs before the final vote that the document is “a European-type constitution based on national interests.”
“There was a very negative constitutional tradition in the country. Each time the constitution was amended, it was done in favor of the ruling party. For the first time, the constitution is amended not in favor of the ruling party or the government, but in favor of the country’s long-term interests,” Kobakhidze noted.
Opposition lawmakers criticized the ruling party for tailoring the constitution to its own interests. Initially, MPs from the European Georgia and then the lawmakers of the United National Movement walked out of the Parliament chamber as a sign of protest against the new constitution.
“You are writing a shameful page in the history of Georgia. You deserve to stay alone in this farce. The European Georgia quits the session,” MP Elene Khoshtaria of the European Georgia said.
“With this constitutional process, you actually gave green light to an irreversible and very painful process, which will definitely backfire on you. You confirmed with this constitutional process that you are alone, you do not have a single ally… you are going to legalize a dictatorial and clan-based constitution,” said UNM’s Nika Melia before walking out of the Parliament chamber together with other lawmakers from the party.
A verbal confrontation ensued between UNM and Georgian Dream lawmakers prompting the Deputy Parliamentary Chair Tamar Chugoshvili to announce a five-minute break.
Commenting the opposition’s decision to boycott the vote, Parliamentary Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze said “this is the third time that the opposition ran away” since the launch of the constitutional reform process and “it is a sign of their weakness.”
MP Ada Marshania of the Alliance of Patriots also slammed the ruling party for its “usurpation” of the constitution. “This constitution is not a document of public consent… This is a constitutional usurpation; this is a legalization of one-party dictatorship… This is not the constitution of Georgia, this is the constitution of the Georgian Dream,” she said.
In his closing remarks at the plenary sitting, Kobakhidze thanked everyone, who participated in this “important” and “historical process.” “Not every parliament has a chance to participate and contribute to making the historical process a reality and fulfilling the historical mission. We were given such an opportunity and that was a great honor for us,” Kobakhidze said, adding that the new constitution “will endure for decades and ensure our country’s long-term democratic development.”
Following the parliamentary vote on the draft constitution, the lawmakers also approved the Constitutional Law on the Autonomous Republic of Adjara with 114 votes in favor and three against.