The ruling Georgian Dream - Democratic Georgia (GDDG) initiated on November 2 a new round of the constitutional amendment process to incorporate the Venice Commission recommendations in the newly-adopted constitution. The respective legislative proposal was sponsored by 116 lawmakers.
According to the bill, parties will be allowed to form election blocs for the next parliamentary election in 2020. Also, the so called bonus system, which entails transfer of votes of the parties that fail to cross the parliamentary threshold entirely to the winner, will be scrapped. Moreover, constitutional grounds for restricting freedom of faith, confession and conscience will be redrawn, and “state security,” “preventing crime” and “administering justice” will be removed from the text.
Amendments will also be made to Constitutional Court-related provisions. Under the proposed bill, the Court will be able to rule unconstitutional those election-specific norms, which were adopted during a 15-month period before elections, instead of a 12-month period as it is envisaged in the new constitution. Moreover, the provision, which sets the requirement of full consensus of the plenum of the Constitutional Court when deciding on constitutionality of the conducted elections, will be abolished.
On November 2, the Parliament also set up a ten-member commission for organizing nationwide public discussions on the proposed amendments. The commission will be led by Parliamentary Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze and will include only one opposition faction - the Alliance of Patriots. Two other parliamentary opposition parties – the European Georgia and the United National Movement – refused to take part in the commission’s work.
“The constitutional revision process ended just recently and a new process was launched again. With that, the ruling Georgian Dream has acknowledged that it adopted a bad constitution. We would have supported the improvement of the constitution, if the government and the Georgian Dream had been ready to hold a real dialogue on those key issues which were tabled by the entire opposition spectrum, including the European Georgia. It involved holding the 2020 elections under the proportional system and maintaining the Georgian people’s right to elect the President,” said MP Zurab Chiaberashvili of the European Georgia.
MP Roman Gotsiridze of the United National Movement ruled out his party’s involvement as well, saying that the commission would fail to take into account the opposition’s ideas. “That the constitution will be amended in compliance with the Venice Commission recommendations does not mean that all of its remarks will be taken into account. We cannot support partial amendments and cannot validate this extremely negative constitutional reform process,” Gotsiridze added.
The ruling party’s lawmaker Davit Matikashvili, who is the deputy chairman of the Parliament’s committee for legal issues, accused the opposition of staging “a political show.” “I do not understand what they want: don’t they want to keep the electoral blocs in 2020? Don’t they want to reduce the threshold to 3%? Don’t they want to have the fully proportional system in 2024? It is absolutely unclear what they are opposing,” Matikashvili said.
The Parliament will approve the proposed amendments in two readings by the end of December, following the month-long public discussions. The third and final reading will be held during the spring session in 2018.
The parliamentary majority announced in late September that it would be willing to incorporate the Venice Commission recommendations in the newly-adopted constitution and asked President Giorgi Margvelashvili to veto the amendments for that purpose. The Georgian Dream was unable to amend the draft constitution on its own (content-related changes can only be introduced during the first and the second readings), and the presidential veto would allow the ruling party to reflect additional changes in the constitution without initiating a new round of constitutional amendments.
President Margvelashvili met GDDG’s request partially and vetoed the requested points, but included two additional changes in his objections, including the transition to the fully proportional electoral system by the next parliamentary elections in 2020 (instead of the ruling party-proposed 2024) and maintaining direct presidential elections.
The President’s decision was slammed by the ruling party and the Parliament overturned the presidential objections on October 13, simultaneously approving the initial version of the document.
The new constitution will enter into force following the next presidential election in 2018.