Referendum on Downsizing of Parliament Casts Controversy
Some legal experts believe that decision to hold referendum on reducing number of the MPs on November 2, might lead to parliamentary and constitutional crisis in the country. While President Shevardnadze said on September 15, that the fears over the possible parliamentary crisis are exaggerated.
Simultaneously with the parliamentary elections, on November 2 the voters will have to answer the question, “whether the seats in the Parliament should be reduced from 235 to 150”. If approved, as initiators of the referendum say, the newly elected Parliament will make relevant amendments to the Constitution and the 150-seat Parliament will be elected in 2007.
However, the question does not clarify that the referendum concerns the elections of 2007. Legal expert Davit Usupashvili, who was one of the candidates for the Central Election Commission Chairmanship post, proposed by the OSCE, claims that this is the very point which might cause controversy after the parliamentary elections.
In his article published in the Georgian daily 24 Saati (24 Hours) Usupashvili says that gaps in the legislature would allow questioning legitimacy of the newly elected Parliament. If the referendum is successful, it will turn that the voters supported reduction of seats to 150, while there will be still 235 MPs in the new Parliament.
As Usupashvili explained, under the Article 28 of the Georgian Organic Law on Referendum, a decision made as a result of a referendum comes into force on the day of its publication, i.e. on November 7 in this particular case, it is binding, and its change or abolition is admissible only by holding another referendum.
“Thus the supreme legislative body of the country will have 85 excess members after November 2 elections, thus shattering legitimacy of the whole Parliament,” Davit Usupashvili told Civil Georgia.
Davit Usupashvili fears that some political groups might take advantage of this contradictory situation to question results of the parliamentary elections.
“It is evident that some political groups and their leaders will be very unhappy with the election results. So what could be better for such forces than a legal confusion, created by the referendum, to demand cancellation of the election results? They will ask a very simple question: who are these 235 persons, who claim to be the MPs, while the public opinion and the law say that there should be only 150 MPs?” Usupashvili said.
“Such situation would be nothing but extreme parliamentary and constitutional crisis, which might lead the country to the edge of large scale civil confrontation,” he added.
However, Usupashvili’s opponents say that there is no reason for concern. “The Constitution, which defines number of the members of the Parliament under the Paragraph 49, is superior to the Organic Law [on referendum]. The Parliament has to introduce relevant amendments to the Constitution, based on the outcome of the referendum. Thus the decision of the referendum could not imply the newly elected Parliament,” legal expert Zakaria Kutsnashvili of the pro-governmental bloc told Civil Georgia.
On September 15 President Shevardnadze made first comments regarding the problem and that he discussed the issue with “many legal experts, and there will be no violations or misunderstandings. After the election of a new Parliament, it will adopt relevant amendments to the Constitution and the next parliament [in 2007] will be composed of 150 MPs.”
“I am sure that the Constitution should have the priority both in theory and practice. However, at the same time the Constitution gives supremacy to the organic law in all matters [the article 74 of the Georgian Constitution reads: Questions connected with fixing and holding referenda are determined by organic law], concerning the referendum. The law says that people’s opinion, expressed through the referendum is the law. If the voters approve reduction of the seats, then this decision will enter into force upon its publication. But for that moment we will already have 235 members of the Parliament elected, while there should be only 150. What are we going to do with these 80 MPs?” Usupashvili says.
To avoid such escalations, Usupashvili suggest changing the question in the referendum ballots to more clarified form, such as: “Do you want to reduce the number of seats in the Parliament from 235 to 150 for the 2007 parliamentary elections?”
However it seems that the President does not intends to amend the referendum question’s formulation, as he has already said that there would be no threat of parliamentary crisis in Georgia after the referendum.