Category Archives: Georgia

Georgia – Changes to the government

Structural changes to the government of Georgia were announced on November 13, 2017. The changes are not directly related to the recent constitutional reform. Instead, according to a statement by the Prime Minister of Georgia, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, the changes will play a major role in the development of a modern country with a more flexible administrative body. One of the main goals is to reduce the administrative costs of government.[1]

The changes were announced shortly after a local government election in which the ruling Georgian Dream gained a majority on all local councils and won almost all mayorships. Most citizens and experts think that economy has worsened over the last few years. The Georgian national currency, Lari (GEL), continues to depreciate against the U.S. Dollar, Euro and life is getting more expensive. In this context, more people believe that the government must cut spending on the bureaucracy, but there are questions as to whether the changes will really create a more flexible and effective government.

The government plans to make two types of changes: first, in the structure of the Government and second in the composition of the Government. The changes will modify the Cabinet’s organisation in the following way: 1. The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resource Management component of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resource Protection will be incorporated into the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development; 2. The integration and reorganization of the Emergency Management Agency, currently under the Interior Ministry, and the State Security and Crisis Management Council will result in the creation of the Emergency Management Center; 3. The youth affairs management component of the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs will be incorporated into the Ministry of Education; 4. The sports component of the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs will be incorporated into the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection; 5. The Ministry of Agriculture will merge with the Ministry of Environment; 6. The State Ministry for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration will be incorporated into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; 7. The foreign Intelligence Service will become part of the State Security Service.

Georgian Dream has already submitted the draft changes in the Parliament. After the completion of the legislative process, the new composition of the Cabinet will require a vote of renewed confidence in parliament. However, there has already been criticism of the changes from different political parties, non-governmental organisations, and experts. The main opposition parties said that the changes were linked to ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili. Some party representatives think that the reforms show that Bidzina Ivanishvili is trying to exercise control over all major state institutions. President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s administration also commented on planned changes. Giorgi Abashishvili, the head of the administration, expressed hope that the changes would reflect positively on every member of the Georgian society.[2]

Different non-governmental organizations and experts have also commented on the structural changes, saying that they have not been well prepared. The Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN) issued a statement on the planned structural changes, asking for a detailed analysis of them.[3] Twenty-five Tbilisi-based civil society organizations released a joint statement on the proposed merger of the Office of the State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They noted that the existence of the Office of the State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration demonstrates that European integration is a national priority and that a decision on the structural changes was made behind closed doors without wide public participation and was unacceptable.[4] One of the problematic issues with the changes is the merger of the State Security (SSS) and the Intelligence Services. Twelve civil society organizations released a joint statement on the planned merger.[5] The changes were also criticized by the monitoring co-rapporteurs for Georgia of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The mission noted that “in the context of the need to strengthen the system of checks and balances, we expressly call upon the authorities to ensure proper parliamentary oversight and control over the national security services. This is especially important given the reportedly increasing prominence of the security services in the governance of the country, as shown by the planned merger of the Foreign Intelligence and the State Security Services in Georgia”.[6]

In addition to this kind of criticism, it seems as if there is some dissent within the parliamentary majority. The Speaker of Parliament announced that the structural changes will be considered during next parliamentary session. He noted that there are different opinions about environmental protection, as well as some questions about the intelligence services. For this reason, additional consultations will be made before any parliamentary consideration.[7]

In conclusion, it should be argued that structural changes that lead to more flexible administrative bodies and that reduce administrative costs are welcome. However, whether they will lead to this outcome depends upon the deliberative process in parliament as well as external consultations with experts and interested organizations in the relevant areas. It should also be noted that Georgia needs structural changes not only at the level of ministries, but also in relation to the many state agencies that have been created since 2012 in Georgia and whose functions are not completely clear in many cases.

Notes

[1] Special Statement by the Prime Minister of Georgia, 2017-11-13,  http://gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=ENG&sec_id=463&info_id=62772

[2] Political Parties, President on PM’s Cabinet Reshuffle Plans, Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 14 Nov.’17 / 13:25, http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30630

[3] Environmental NGO Calls for ‘In-Depth Analysis’ of Proposed Government Changes, Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 16 Nov.’17 / 12:32, http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30638

[4] http://eap-csf.ge/images/doc/gancxadeba/statement-%20structural%20changes_geo.pdf

[5] Legislative Amendments to Reinstate and Strengthen the Soviet-Style Practice of Planting Security Officers on an Unprecedented Scale, 29 November, 2017http://www.transparency.ge/en/post/legislative-amendments-reinstate-and-strengthen-soviet-style-practice-planting-security

[6] Georgia: call for stronger system of checks and balances, including for security services, 28/11/2017, http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/News/News-View-EN.asp?newsid=6882&lang=2&cat=

[7] According to Irakli Kobakhidze, structural changes need to be consulted on intelligence service and environmental protection, December 01, 2017, http://geonews.ge/geo/news/story/81961-irakli-kobakhidzis-gantskhadebit-dazvervis-samsakhursa-da-garemos-datsvastan-dakavshirebit-struqturuli-tsvlilebebi-konsultatsiebs-sachiroebs

Georgia – The president’s veto of the constitutional reform is overridden

On September 26, 2017, the Parliament of Georgia approved a set of constitutional amendments on their third and final reading with 117 lawmakers voting in favor and two against.[1] On October 9, the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili, vetoed the constitutional amendments and returned the draft bill to Parliament together with his objections. The president noted six points, four of which reflected commitments made by the governing Georgian Dream party before the Venice Commission. These were: the issue of the electoral bonus for the winning party at legislative elections, the creation of electoral blocks, and issues relating to the constitutional court and religious freedom. The president also noted Georgian Dream’s initiative relating to the introduction of a fully proportional electoral system in 2020. Finally, the president suggested the introduction of an indirect presidential elections at some time in the future rather than after the 2018 election.[2]

President Margvelashvili suggested that if Georgian Dream were to accept these proposals, then it would demonstrate that Georgia had a “European” political culture and that the government would be acting in accordance with the Venice Commission.

On October 13, the parliament of Georgia overturned the president’s objections with 117 votes and approved the initial version of the document. [3] The ruling party announced several days before the plenary session that they would support president’s objections if the president suggested only two changes: allowing the parties to form electoral blocs for the next parliamentary elections in 2020, and allowing the so-called bonus system.

The next step in the constitutional reform was the signing of the constitutional amendment. As the presidential veto had been overturned, many experts believed that the president would not sign the bill into law. According the Georgian constitution, if President fails to promulgate a law within the specified timeframe, the Chairperson of Parliament shall sign and promulgate it.[4] However, one week after the president had vetoed the bill, President Margvelashvili signed the amendments into law. The president made a special statement before signing the amendments. He said that it was extremely difficult for him to sign the Constitution. However, he said that he would do so to avoid any destabilization.[5]

The new constitution will enter into force following the next presidential elections in 2018. This means that the 2018 presidential election will still be held directly. More generally, the president remains the head of state, the commander-in-chief and the country’s representative in foreign relations, but no longer ensures “the functioning of state bodies within the scope of his/her powers granted by the Constitution.” At the following presidential election, the president will be elected by way of an electoral college composed of 300 members, including MPs, members of two Autonomous Republics and local government representatives. Thus, semi-presidentialism will be remain in Georgia until after the 2018 presidential election. Next year will show how successful the amendments turn out to be.

Notes

[1] http://parliament.ge/en/saparlamento-saqmianoba/plenaruli-sxdomebi/plenaruli-sxdomebi_news/saqartvelos-parlamentma-konstituciuri-kanonis-proeqti-mesame-mosmenit-miigo.page

[2] President Margvelashvili Sends Six-Point Motivated Remarks to Parliament, https://www.president.gov.ge/en-US/pressamsakhuri/siakhleebi/saqartvelos-prezidentma-parlaments-6-punqtiani-mot.aspx

[3] The Parliament overrode the Presidential veto on the Constitutional Changes, 13 Oct 2017,  http://parliament.ge/en/saparlamento-saqmianoba/plenaruli-sxdomebi/plenaruli-sxdomebi_news/parlamentma-sakonstitucio-cvlilebebze-prezidentis-veto-dadzlia.page

[4] Constitution of Georgia, August 24, 1995, http://www.parliament.ge/uploads/other/28/28803.pdf

[5] President Margvelashvili: It Is Extremely Difficult for Me to Sign This Constitution, but We Should Take All Steps to Avoid Possible Causes of Destabilization, https://www.president.gov.ge/en-US/pressamsakhuri/siakhleebi/giorgi-margvelashvili-chemtvis-uagresad-dznelia-am.aspx

Georgia – Constitutional reform: From semi-presidentialism to parliamentarism

More than 20 years since the adoption of the constitution of Georgia, governments are still thinking about constitutional reform. Typically, authorities have done so as a way of strengthening their powers.

Thorough constitutional reform has already been carried out twice. First, fundamental changes were adopted in 2004 after the Rose Revolution. A semi-presidential model was introduced, but in fact, it was a super-presidential system where the president’s powers were further strengthened by the presidential majority in parliament. Second, in 2010 the direct election of the president was maintained, but the powers of the president were significantly weakened, bringing Georgia closer to the parliamentary model. President Saakashvili, who was term-limited, wanted to remain in the power as prime minister, and this constitutional amendment was designed to serve this purpose. However, Saakashvili’s party lost the 2012 parliamentary elections and an electoral coalition of six parties led by Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili came to power. After a year of tense cohabitation, power was fully transferred to the Georgian Dream coalition after the 2013 presidential election.

Today, Georgia faces a third major constitutional revision. Prior to the 2012 election, the Georgian Dream coalition promised to amend the constitution and move to a parliamentary system. Not all parties in the coalition shared this opinion at the time, but in 2016 the coalition was dissolved in the run up to the parliamentary elections. At the 2016 election, Georgian Dream participated independently, winning 48.67% of the proportional vote and 44 seats in the legislature, and 70 of the 73 seats in the majoritarian constituencies. So, with less than 50% of the vote, the party won a super majority in the parliament. To change the constitution, a party currently needs more than 115 of the 150 seats in the legislature.

On December 15, 2016, parliament created the State Constitutional Commission to revise the constitution[1]. The main goal of the Commission was to draw up the draft law on the revision of the Constitution of Georgia[2]. On April 22, 2017, the State Constitutional Commission adopted the Draft of Revision of the Constitution.[3]

The State Constitutional Commission comprised 72 members, including representatives of both the parliamentary majority and the minority, constitutional bodies, experts, NGOs, and representatives of political parties who received at least 3% of the vote in the last parliamentary elections. The ruling party held a majority on the commission. The presidential administration refused to work with the Commission, because in the president’s opinion, the procedure for setting up the Commission lacked political legitimacy and was not based on a wide consensus.[4]

Two days before the vote on the constitutional draft, the opposition parties left the Commission. Fifteen opposition parties announced that the ruling majority had not considered any of their proposals and accsued the ruling party of amending the constitution to suit themselves. The Commission’s work was criticized and was not supported by the Public Defender’s Office and representatives of leading NGOs. The ruling party commented that the Commission’s legitimacy was not endangered by the boycott of the opposition, as the people would legitimize the draft constitution during public hearings. Although the constitution of Georgia does not require the adoption of the constitution by a referendum, public discussions are important, but previous practice shows that such discussions are not very effective.

As to the transparency of the Commission, it should be noted that no social networks were used in the process. In terms of inclusiveness, it was almost the same process as when the United National Movement had previously used its constitutional majority to adopt constitutional amendments without considering the opposition’s opinions. It should also be noted that these fundamental constitutional amendments were prepared within a period of only 3 months. No international experts were invited to be part of the process of preparing the amendments. The president of the Venice Commission, Gianni Buquicchio, said during his visit to Georgia in 2013 that a good Constitution should be based on the widest consensus possible between all the political parties and society.[5]

On May 8, 2017, the draft of the constitutional amendments was submitted to the Venice Commission. Georgian Dream expected to receive a positive report. The government announced that it would not accept any constitutional amendments which were negatively evaluated by the Venice Commission and would unconditionally share all the legal recommendations expressed by the Commission. In fact, the ruling party did accept some of the Venice Commission’s recommendations, but the issue of introducing a fully proportional electoral system for the 2020 parliamentary election was not accepted.

As noted above, the main goal of the reform is to introduce a parliamentary republic. The commonly heard argument of those behind the reform is that parliamentarism is more democratic, that it better represents the interests of the people, and that it is present in a majority of European countries. However, there are no clear reasons to suggest either that presidential or semi-presidential systems are less democratic or that they do not fit the situation in Georgia. The main issue for both the Commission and the ruling party is the ending of direct presidential elections.

According to the draft, the president of Georgia will be elected by an electoral college without a debate for a 5-year term. The Electoral College will comprise 300 members, including all Members of Parliament and all members of Supreme Councils of the Autonomous Republics of Abkhazia and Adjara. The other members will be named by political parties from representatives of local councils. It must be noted that the ruling party has a majority In the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara and in local government. These governments do not have independent financial and economic means and are completely depended on government support. Georgia does not have a decentralised territorial state structure and the country still operates like the Soviet system. Governors (representatives of executive) in the regions are appointed by the executive[6]. They are loyal to the parliamentary majority.

The majority of citizens and political parties do not favour the cancellation of direct presidential elections. Significant parts of society consider the direct election of the president as a way of exercising their voice and as the only mechanism for balancing the executive[7].

According to the draft constitution, the president’s powers will also be restricted. The president will carry out a number of powers in agreement with the government or at the government’s proposal. The ruling party thinks that the president should not be an active, charismatic leader and should be more of an experienced academic person. The President cannot be a member of a party and the age of candidates will be increased from 35 to 40. The National Security Council will be abolished and a Council of Defense will be created, which will operate only during martial law. The National Security Council was the subject of controversy between the presidency and the government after the 2012 parliamentary elections. The Prime Minister did not attend Security Council meetings convened by the President. Later, Parliament adopted a special law on the State Security and Crisis Management Council and created such a council in the executive. According to the draft constitution, the President of Georgia will remain the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, but he will appoint and dismiss the Head of the Military Forces on the recommendation of the Government.

One of the significant issues of this constitutional reform is an electoral system which has become a source of disagreement between the ruling party, the opposition and the President of Georgia. The opposition demanded a fully proportional parliamentary election during last elections. At the start of the work of Constitutional Commission, the ruling party suported this proposal, but then proposed a 5 percent threshold with undistributed votes below the threshold being allocated to the winning party. At the same time, the draft banned electoral blocs. With weak party structures and financial resources, the opposition fear that the election process will not be equal, given they will have to compete against the Georgian Dream, which is backed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. The percentage of undistributed votes could range from 20% to 60%, meaning that the first-place party is likely to receive a bonus of 30 or more seats in parliament. It seems that after abolition of the majoritarian system, the ruling party still hopes to create a majority in the parliament using these amendments. This is indisputably an unfair electoral system and will most likely create a strong one-party majority in the future.

The amendments relating to the electoral system were strongly criticized by international organizations, Georgian NGOs and the Venice Commission. The Venice Commission noted that “The replacement of the current proportional/majoritarian election system by a proportional election system is, without doubt, a positive step forward aiming at increasing pluralism in Parliament. However, this positive step forward is limited by three mechanisms: the 5% threshold rule in legislative elections is maintained; the undistributed votes below the 5% threshold are allocated to the winning party and, electoral coalitions (party blocks) are abolished. While the 5% threshold is perfectly in line with European standards and does not as such expose itself to criticism, taken together, these three mechanisms limit the effects of the proportional system to the detriment of smaller parties and pluralism and deviate from the principles of fair representation and electoral equality to a larger extent than seems justified by the need to ensure stability”.[8]

Parliament adopted the constitutional amendments at its second reading in an extraordinary session on June 23. Only the Georgian Dream supported them. The President, the opposition and the NGO sector called on the ruling party to resume the dialogue on constitutional change, sending their remarks to the Venice Commission. On September 26, 2017, Parliament approved the amendments to the Constitution at the third reading supported by 117 votes, while 2 MPs voted against.

The amendments will come into force after the 2018 presidential election. In 2018 the president will be directly elected for a six-year term. The proportional electoral system will begin in 2024, while the 2020 elections will still be held under the existing mixed electoral system and with a one-time 3% election barrier. Thus, the reform process ended with the rejection of a fully proportional electoral system for 2020 parliamentary election, which was the main demand of the opposition political parties.

On the second day after the final adoption of the constitutional amendments in parliament, the speaker of the parliament suggested that the president use his veto power in relation to the bonus system and the abolition of electoral blocs. This is the first that the parliamentary majority has asked to the president to veto constitutional amendments. It must be noted that parliamentary majority did not consider these changes during earlier stages of the parliamentary process, despite strong criticism from all political groups, president and international organizations.

The amendment of the electoral system is the cornerstone of this constitutional refom. The Georgian experience shows that a mixed electoral system has returned a strong single party majority in parliament since the adoption of constitution in 1995. Keeping the mixed system for the 2020 parliamentary election could be considered a strategic goal of the ruling party in its attempt to maintain power. Allowing party blocks and reducing the election threshold to 3% was a last-minute change in the face of strong criticism from the international and domestic community. Nonetheless, the Venice commission noted that the postponement of the adoption of a proportional election system to October 2024 is both highly regrettable and a major obstacle to reaching consensus.[9] The ruling party announced that they could not make any fundamental changes to the constitution during its third hearing and that a new draft of the constitutional amendment will be initiated during next parliamentary session. The Venice Commission noted that they expect this step not only to be considered, but immediately adopted.[10]

The draft also changed the constitutional amendment rules. The amendments will be adopted by a two-thirds rather than a three-quarters majority in Parliament. Although amendments will be submitted to the President after their adoption by Parliament, if they are supported by three-quarters of the total number of MPs the president will not have the right to veto them. According the Georgian constitution and legislation, the constitutional court of Georgia is not entitled to consider the constitutionality of constitutional amendments.

In conclusion, it should be noted that there are some positive aspects to the draft constitution. These relate to government formation and accountability, human rights and freedoms, and other technical changes, but the most important aspects are the mechanisms for the democratic functioning of power. Without a democratic political system, any improvements will be a fiction. The constitutional reform confirmed the perils of a single party holding supermajority powers. The unilateral adoption of such important amendments is a threat to the long-term democratic development of the country. No matter how good some of them may be, an acknowledgement of the Georgian context is very important. The draft will most likely establish a one-party majority without the necessary checks and balances.

Notes

[1]  The Resolution of the Parliament of Georgia on Creation of the State Constitutional Commission and Approval of the Charter of the State Constitutional Commission http://constitution.parliament.ge/en-54

[2] The Charter of the State Constitutional Commission, http://constitution.parliament.ge/en-52

[3] The State Constitutional Commission supported the Draft of Revision of the Constitution, http://constitution.parliament.ge/en-88

[4] President’s Administration Boycotts Planned Constitutional Reform Commission, Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 12 Dec.’16 http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=29687

[5] Gianni Buquicchio – Constitution Should not be the Result of Consensus between the Party or Current Majority, http://www.interpressnews.ge/en/politicss/44180-gianni-buquicchio–constitution-should-not-be-the-result-of-consensus-between-the-party-or-current-majority.html?ar=A

[6] Constitution of Georgia, 24 August 1995 https://matsne.gov.ge/en/document/view/30346

[7] Political Ratings and Public Attitudes in IRI-commissioned Poll, Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 5 Apr.’17, http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=29995

[8] CDL-AD(2017)013-e Georgia – Opinion on the draft revised Constitution, http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2017)013-e

[9] Draft opinion on the draft Constitution of Georgia as adopted in the second reading in June 2017, Strasbourg, 22 September 2017, Opinion 876 / 2017, CDL-PI(2017)006, http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-PI(2017)006-e

[10] Draft opinion on the draft Constitution of Georgia as adopted in the second reading in June 2017, Strasbourg, 22 September 2017, Opinion 876 / 2017, CDL-PI(2017)006, http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-PI(2017)006-e

Georgia – Proposed constitutional reforms

Draft amendments to the Constitution of Georgia are currently undergoing nationwide public discussions before being voted on in parliament. Among other significant amendments, the proposed draft foresees moving to a parliamentary form of government with the introduction of indirect presidential elections and changing the electoral system to full proportional representation.

On December 9, 2016 the Parliamentary Chairman, Irakli Kobakhidze, announced the setting up of a constitutional commission tasked with drafting a package of constitutional amendments. The commission would report at the end of April 2017.

Soon after the announcement, Giorgi Margvelashvili, the President of Georgia, boycotted the process and his administration (including the Security Council) refrained from taking part in the commission’s discussions. The administration noted that the format offered by the Parliamentary Chairman raised a lot of question marks.

The ruling Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia party had 23 members in the commission; the United National Movement was represented by 8 members; and the Alliance of Patriots by 2 members. The commission also included one representative from each of the parties in the electoral blocs that failed to clear the 5% thresholdin the last parliamentary elections, but that had garnered at least 3% of votes .

Before boycotting the process, the President was supposed to have three representatives in the commission: the Head of the President’s administration; the President’s parliamentary secretary; and the Secretary of the National Security Council.

The government was represented by the Minister of Justice and the government’s parliamentary secretary. The  commission also included the chairpersons of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court; the heads of the legislative and executive bodies of Adjara and Abkhazian Autonomous Republics; the Georgian Public Defender; the President of the National Bank of Georgia; and the chairperson of the State Audit Office.

Experts and NGOs were included at the Chairman’s invitation.

Despite the broad range of topics that the commission was tasked to discuss, the electoral system, the election of the president, and the definition of marriage generated the most heated debates.

While the Chairman of the Commission aimed to legitimise the process, President Margvelashvili launched a campaign called the “Constitution Belongs to Everyone” and visited a number of towns in different regions of Georgia to discuss the likely amendments before the draft amendments were published on May 1.

Shortly before its final session of the Commission, opposition parties also left the Commission in protest.

Major Draft Amendments

Election of the President

The Georgian Dream-led Constitutional Commission opted for a Parliamentary Republic. In particular, the proposed amendments will abolish the direct election of the president, transferring it to a college of electors composed of 300 MPs, local, and regional government representatives. The scrapping off nearly all the powers of the President was justified by the proposed shift to a parliamentary system.

The college of electors will consist of 150 members of parliament and all members of the Supreme Councils of Adjara and Abkhazia (in-exile). Electors from municipal councils will be nominated by political parties in accordance with quotas assigned “on the basis of the principle of proportional geographic representation and the results of municipal elections.”

The eligibility age for the President of Georgia will increase from 35 to 40. There are changes to residency requirements as well; a potential candidate will have to have lived in Georgia for at least 15 years. He/she, however, is no longer required to have lived in Georgia for the three years before the election.

The president will remain the head of state, the commander-in-chief, and the country’s representative in foreign relations, but will no longer “ensure the functioning of state bodies within the scope of his/her powers granted by the Constitution.” The President will lose the right “to request particular matters to be discussed at the Government session and to participate in the discussion.”

The National Security Council, which “organizes the military development and defense of the country” and is led by the president under the current constitution, will no longer exist. Instead, the draft constitution establishes the National Defense Council, which will function only during martial law to coordinate the work of the constitutional bodies, and will consist of the President, the Prime Minister, Parliamentary Chairman and the Head of the Armed Forces of Georgia.

The proposed indirect election of President was met with the fiercest criticism in Georgian society. In their address to the Venice Commission, local CSOs noted, “the Constitution of a specific country should take into account the local context and experience, and should be responsive to local challenges and needs.” CSOs underlines that Georgia does not have a rich democratic experience, that the political/legal culture of voters is developing, democratic institutions are not strong enough, and there is lack of trust towards public institutions in the country. In this context, CSOs viewed the draft amendments as a step made towards weakening democracy, describing the reforms as “risky and not desirable”.

NDI Opinion Polls 2017

The most recent opinion polls commissioned by NDI confirmed that the citizens of Georgia prefer the direct election of the president (84 %). Furthermore, President Margvelashvili viewed the draft amendment as a personal attack against himself, a non-partisan president, and emphasized this issue during the public discussions of the proposed amendments.

Electoral System

If adopted, Georgia will move to a fully proportional electoral system, replacing the current mixed system, whereby voters elect 73 MPs in majoritarian, single-seat constituencies, while the remaining 77 seats are distributed proportionally in the closed party-list contest with a 5% threshold.

The new constitution will ban the establishment of party blocs ahead of elections, while leaving the 5% threshold intact.

The draft constitution increases the age of eligible candidates from 21 to 25 and sets a ten-year residency requirement in Georgia.

Only parties with members currently in the parliament or those which obtain the signatures of 25000 voters are eligible to participate in parliamentary elections. According to the draft, MPs nominated by one political party can form only one parliamentary faction.

CSOs in Georgia have concerns over the electoral system and, specifically, the allocation of the remaining seats (undistributed mandates). Since the constitutional draft introduces an unlimited bonus for a party that receives the most votes – all undistributed mandates will be allocated a single party. CSOs consider this aspect of the electoral system to be highly unfair and largely undermine the positive gains from the change of the majoritarian system. CSOs believe that the constitution should ensure that the undistributed mandates are allocated proportionally to all parties in the Parliament according to their election results.

Definition of Marriage

The draft constitution introduces the definition of marriage as “the union of a man and a woman.” While the definition of marriage already exists as part of the Civil Code of Georgia, the Georgian Dream party decided to introduce a special provision as part of the constitutional reforms.

CSOs have named the definition of marriage as “a problematic issue”. According to their assessment, this amendment is particularly problematic given widespread homophobia, increasing cases of hate crimes, and the continuous struggle for LGBT groups to exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly. Furthermore, the assessment states that the constitutional prohibition of marriage equality is particularly concerning given that Georgian legislation does not guarantee civil partnerships for same-sex couples. CSOs believe that in line with ECHR practice, Georgia should introduce the legal recognition of same-sex couples and guarantee similar rights as the opposite-sex couples.

The constitutional commission expects the opinion of the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional and legal matters, to issue its preliminary conclusion before June in time for parliamentary discussions and the final conclusion of the debate on June 15. However, it is uncertain if the Constitutional Commission will reflect the Venice Commission’s conclusions in the final text that will be voted upon.

Presidential Profile – Giorgi Margvelashvili, Georgia’s non-partisan President

Giorgi Margvelashvili, 47, the fourth president of Georgia was elected in 2013 with 62 percent in direct popular vote. Prior to his presidential nomination, he served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education and Science in the government of PM Bidzina Ivanishvili. Although viewed as a non-partisan President right now, Margvelashvili was picked and nominated by Bidzina Ivanishvili himself for the ruling Georgian Dream Coalition in May 2013. With the victory of the Georgian Dream candidate in the presidential race, cohabitation, tense relations between the executive government (Georgian Dream) and the President Mikheil Saakashvili (United National Movement), came to an end. However, Giorgi Margvelashvili began a new era in the history of Georgian Presidency with the country moving from a president-centric system to a more parliamentary system. This transformation has caused dramatic changes in the intra-executive conflicts.

Background

Giorgi Margvelashvili joined the Georgian Dream government in 2012 when the coalition won the parliamentary elections. Before that, he was known as a philosopher, political commentator and an academician, who used to be the rector of the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA). Mr. Margvelashvili graduated from Tbilisi State University in 1992 with a degree in Philosophy. Later he earned degrees from the Central European University in Prague, Czech Republic (1994) and the Institute of Philosophy of the Georgian Academy of Sciences (1996). Margvelashvili holds a PhD degree in Philosophy from Tbilisi State University.

However, 2012 was not his first attempt in Georgian politics. Margvelashvili was a member of the opposition party led by the Chairman of the Parliament, Zurab Zhvania, in 2003. Before joining the government, he advised Bidzina Ivanishvili during the 2012 parliamentary election campaign.

Constitutional Reform

The constitutional reform that was finalised in 2010 and enacted in 2013 changed the form of government in the country. Some politicians viewed the reform as shift from a presidential to a parliamentary model, while others claimed that Georgia was moving to semi-presidential system.

After the 2012 Parliamentary elections, for the first time in the history of independent Georgia, power was peacefully transferred from the ruling party to the opposition. However, this historic transition appeared to be painful for the political system. Cohabitation, or the change in the balance of power between the two branches of government, has led to confrontation between the executive government and the president.

Although cohabitation ended with Mikheil Saakashvili (2004-2013) stepping down from the office and Giorgi Margvelashvili commencing his term, intra-executive conflict has not ended.

Power of President

According to the constitution of Georgia and the amendments enacted in 2013, the President lost nearly all power over the executive government. At the same time, with the legacy set by the previous president, public perception of the institute of president was of a powerful leader and a head of the government.

Currently, the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili is the head of state and guarantor of the country’s integrity and national independence; furthermore, he is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and represents Georgia in foreign relations; the President leads the National Security Council, decides the issues of granting citizenship, and has the power of pardon. The President also presents the candidate for a Chairman of the government of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara  and Abkhazia to the Supreme Council for approval;

Transformation into the non-partisan president

Margvelashvili expressed his disobedience to the master, Bidzina Ivanishvili, soon after his inauguration. First, he openly disagreed with the possible relocation of the Administration of the President from the Presidential Palace. The Presidential Palace, which was built during Saakashvili’s term, was strongly disliked by Ivanishvili as a symbol of UNM’s rule in the country. Instead, the PM commissioned the renovation of a new building for the President’s residence. Despite the fact that more than 10 million USD of public funds were spent on the refurbishment, Margvelashvili refused to relocate and continues to work in the Avlabari Presidential Palace to this day.

When Bidzina Ivanishvili stepped down as Prime Minister a major intra-executive conflict unfolded between the President and a new PM, Irakli Gharibashvili.

Constitutional ambiguity was demonstrated in several occasions:

In 2014, Georgia signed an Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union. The Agreement acknowledged Georgia’s progress on the path to European integration, promised a deep and comprehensive free trade with the EU, and visa-free travel.

As the highest representative in foreign relations, Margvelashvili’s administration considered that the President was the right person to sign the AA for Georgia. However, PM Gharibashvili viewed the head of the executive government as the right person to sign the document. Finally, PM Gharibashvili won the battle and on June 24, he 2014 signed the agreement on behalf of Georgia.

In 2014, participation in the UN General Assembly in New York caused another conflict between the President and the Prime Minister. As usual, Georgian delegations were headed by Presidents (Shevardnadze, Saakashvili), who also addressed the GA. However, the government decided that PM should head the delegation instead of Margvelashvili. Both offices began to plan the visit independently, without any coordination, until former PM, Bidzina Ivanishvili, accused the president of acting as a competitor to the prime minister. Soon, Margvelashvili cancelled the visit and accused the government of ignoring the constitution. (Tabula, 2014)

On Georgia’s Independence Day on May 26, President Margvelashvili sent out copies of the constitution to the prime minister, MPs, and the Supreme and Constitutional courts as a symbolic gesture calling the state institutions to respect the constitution. (A.Tsurtsumia-Zurabashvili for Presidential Power. 2015)

The intra-executive conflict faded when Irakli Gharibashvili resigned without explanation and the new Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili took office.

Gharibashvili’s successor, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, has gone out of his way to present a united front with Margvelashvili. He made a point of attending a session of the National Security Council that Margvelashvili convened in late January, whereas Gharibashvili had participated in only one of three such sessions under Margvelashvili’s chairmanship. (Radio Free Europe, Liz Fuller 2016)

New Constitutional Reform without the President

President Margvelashvili’s administration is widely engaged in the legislative process. The President has vetoed several bills. However, the ruling Georgian Dream, which enjoys supermajority in the Parliament, does not fear presidential vetoes.

Most recently, the Chairman of the Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, inaugurated a new constitutional commission consisting of 73 members, tasked with producing amendments to the Constitution.

As reported by Civil Georgia, the President refrained from participating in the work of the state constitutional commission because the format offered by the Parliament “obviously lacks political trust and political legitimization”.

The chief of president’s administration explained that the President wanted the commission to be co-chaired by him, Prime Minister and Parliamentary Chairman, but the ruling Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia party rejected this proposal. (Civil.ge)

One of the issues that the constitutional commission will touch upon will be the indirect election of future presidents of Georgia.

The next Presidential elections in Georgia are due to take place in 2018. However, it is uncertain if Margvelashvili intends to participate in the race for the second term, or if he has any intention of remaining in politics.

www.president.gov.ge – official website of the Georgian President.

Official Facebook Page of Giorgi Margvelashvili

Georgia – Political Landscape After Parliamentary Elections

On November 16, the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Georgia published its final summary protocol for October 2016 Parliamentary elections. The CEC confirmed that three electoral subjects: Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia (GDDG), United National Movement (UNM) and the Alliance of Patriots would enter the Parliament of Georgia. Following the announcement of final election results, the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili, convened the inaugural session of the newly elected parliament on November 18.

The ruling GDDG received 115 seats in the parliament (both majoritarian and party list results), followed by its major opponent the United National Movement with 27 MPs and the Alliance of Patriots with six seats; additionally, one majoritarian MP from Industrialists and an independent candidate Salome Zurabishvili managed to enter the 150-seat-strong legislative assembly.

This parliamentary election was remarkable. Although, only one majoritarian candidate nominated by the Industry Will Save Georgia (Industrialists) party won the seat in Khashuri constituency of Eastern Georgia, the party itself did not clear the three percent threshold necessary for qualifying for public funding. However, the Central Election Commission made a judgement and took a decision to grant public funding to the Industrialists for being represented by one majoritarian MP in the parliament. The CEC judgement has received harsh criticism from major watchdog organisations (GYLA, ISFED, Transparency Georgia), who accused the CEC of putting one political party in a privileged position without it meeting the criteria for additional public funding. It is worth noting that the CEC decision will also affect the composition of the Central Election Commission, whereby the more GDDG-friendly Industrials will replace the Free Democrats, the more outspoken opponents to the ruling party.

Apart from that, the recent research findings published by Transparency International Georgia note that the use of administrative resources by the ruling party in some instances, notably public servants were mobilized for electoral events in many cases. However, Transparency Georgia does not view the observed cases as influential for the e-day outcome.

Confidence vote for Georgian Dream Government

Following the inaugural session, the Georgian parliament voted for a new cabinet of ministers headed by the same prime-minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili. Kvirikashvili himself led the Georgian Dream Democratic Georgia party list for parliamentary elections. The cabinet, where 18 ministers have remained after the portfolio of the State Minister for Diaspora Issues was subsumed by the Foreign Ministry, was reshuffled only slightly.

A four-year program of the government entitled “Freedom, Rapid Development, Welfare” was approved, as expected. Equipped with the supermajority in the parliament (115 seats), GDDG will be able to pass any initiative during the four-year term.

Elections over – political landscape still reshaping

The election had far-reaching for the rest of political spectrum. Before the run-offs, the leader of the Free Democrats, Irakli Alasania, left politics and withdrew from the second round race in the Gori constituency. Apart from Alasania, several leaders and former Free Democrats MPs left the party and spoke of the possibility of cooperating with their former political opponent – GDDG. Just recently, one of the former leader’s of Alasania’s political party was appointed as a minister in the GDDG cabinet.

David Usupashvili, the Parliamentary Chairman (2012-2016) and the leader the Republican Party, has left the party as well. The Republican Party, the oldest political party in Georgia and prominent for its liberal values, was represented in the previous parliament (2012-2016) as part of the ruling coalition. Parting from the coalition just months before elections, the Republicans received less than two per cent of the vote in the elections and none of its majoritarian candidates succeeded. Several leaders and tens of party members followed Usupashvili’s decision. Although he made it clear he has no intention of leaving the political scene, Usupashvili’s political future is uncertain.

The post-electoral period has also revealed significant divisions in the United National Movement as well, where Mikheil Saakashvili, broadcasting live from Odessa inUkraine, called on the party not to recognise the election result, to reject any participation in the run-offs, and to refuse to take up any parliamentary seats. Part of the UNM leadership went against Saakashvili by accepting the parliamentary seats and running in the second round. Only Sandra Roelofs, who is Saakashvili’s wife and who was number two on the party list, withdrew from the runoff race and asked the Central Election Commission to annul her parliamentary mandate.

The internal feud in the United National Movement continued even after the decision to enter the Parliament. At this point, two major opposing groups have emerged. President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was stripped of Georgian citizenship when he accepted a Ukrainian passport, automatically lost his position as a party chairman and his seat remains vacant. Saakashvili’s opposition in the party – Giga Bokeria, Gigi Ugulava (former Mayor of Tbilisi, currently in prison) and their supporters – are advocating for a renewal of the party, which among other things includes election of a new chair.

Ghia Nodia, a Georgian political analyst, views the internal conflict in United National Movement as deep and multidimensional. According to Nodia, by becoming a Ukrainian politician and being away from Georgia, Saakashvili lost his leadership and influence in the party. It is obvious for Ghia Nodia that fractioning will weaken the UNM more.

Internal developments in the UNM have attracted public attention for several reasons: firstly, it is the only former ruling party in Georgia which managed to avoid dissolution after the defeat in  the election; secondly, it continued functioning while its leader had to flee Georgia and while a number of other leaders are in prison (Former Prime Minister Ivane Merabishvili, former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, former Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia); thirdly, the UNM has remained a vocal parliamentary opposition against the government.

On November 30, Civil.ge reported that the UNM leadership held a meeting of its political council, the highest governing body of the party. The council decided in favor of the decision to hold a congress with the participation of 7,000 delegates, as ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili wanted. Twenty-four members voted against and two members abstained.

Saakashvili’s wing in the party has called for the election of a new chairperson as deciding otherwise would mean that the party distances itself from Mikheil Saakashvili, hence what they consider a “political suicide”.

Mikheil Saakashvili has just recently resigned as governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region and has become a leader of the opposition movement in Ukraine. He welcomed “the correct decision” taken by his party in favor of holding a large-scale congress.

For the UNM, unity is of critical importance at the moment. However, the depth of the conflict demonstrates the lack of resources in the party. At the same time, the need for renewal and change, or the confirmation of the fact that there is life after Saakashvili is absolutely obvious.

Georgia – Ruling Party Wins A Big Majority In Parliamentary Elections

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On October 8, 2016 Georgia held a parliamentary elections to elect 150 MPs using a mixed electoral system. According to this system voters elected 73 MPs in majoritarian, single-seat constituencies, while the remaining 77 seats were distributed proportionally in a closed party-list contest, whereby the party must clear a 5% threshold to win representation. In total, 25 parties and 816 majoritarian candidates contested the election.

Pre-election atmosphere

Despite the high number of parties, the United National Movement (which was the ruling party from 2004-2012) and the Georgian Dream (the ruling party since 2012) remained the front-runners according to all pre-election opinion polls (NDI & IRI polls).

The UNM emphasized renewal and attempted to come out of the shadow of Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili, who is currently serving as governor of Odessa in Ukraine, was the founder of the party and president from 2004-2012.

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The founder of the Georgian Dream, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is now self-described as ‘just a citizen’ , but who for many remains the leader behind the scenes, was closely involved in campaigning through lengthy media appearances.

Until very recently, the electoral campaign was mostly peaceful, save for a few isolated incidents. But as the elections approached, the violence spiked, including the shootout at a campaign event in Gori and the explosion of a UNM MP’s car in the center of Tbilisi.

The “State for the People” party, which was launched by the renowned Georgian opera singer, Paata Burchuladze, just a few months before the elections, was a surprise challenger to the UNM-GD duo. Burchuladze united with several parties in an electoral bloc, including Girchi-New Political Center and Giorgi Vashadze (both of whom had recently split from the UNM). However, the unity vanished just weeks before the election day, leaving many of State for the People candidates out of the elections.

The Free Democrats and The Republicans, so called pro-western and anti-Russian factions of former Georgian Dream coalition decided to run independently.

Lastly, the pro-Russian Democratic Movement led by Nino Burjanadze and the Alliance of Patriots also actively campaigned in the pre-electoral period.

E-day

All 3,702 precincts opened at 8am on polling day, including the polling stations abroad. Georgians residing abroad could cast a ballot only if they were registered at a consulate before September 17, 2016 and attending to vote in person on October 8.

Early exit poll results commissioned jointly by public broadcaster, Imedi TV, Maestro TV, and GDS TV showed that the ruling party had won 53.8%, followed by the UNM with 19.5%, with the pro-Russian Alliance of Patriots winning just over the 5% necessary to clear the threshold. The same exit polls showed Free Democrats at 4%; Labor Party at 3.1%; Paata Burchuladze’s State for People at 2.7%; and Republican Party at only 2.7%.

An alternative exit poll was commissioned by the major opposition channel Rustavi 2 TV.  Conducted by GfK and fielded by Tbilisi-based pollster BCG Research, this poll returned a better results for the UNM at 32.74%, less for GD at 39.9%, and the Alliance of Patriots at 5.76%. According to Rustavi 2 exit polls, the Labor Party won 4.21%, Paata Burchuladze’s State for People won 3.25%, the Free Democrats won 3.21%, and Nino Burjanadze’s Democratic Movement won 2.81%.

With the exit polls proving controversial, on October 9 the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Georgia’s largest election monitoring non-governmental organization, released the results of its parallel vote tabulation (PVT) of proportional, party-list vote. This poll largely coincided with the early official results.

According to its PVT results, the ruling Georgian Dream party won 49.1% of the vote and UNM 26.8%. PVT’s margin of error was calculated at +/- 0.9%. ISFED was not able to determine conclusively whether or not the Alliance of Patriots had cleared the 5% threshold.  They returned the party at 4.9% of the vote, but the margin of error was +/- 0.3%.

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Several irregularities and violations were reported and complaints were filed by local and international observer organizations. In a number of precincts the electoral process and counting were interrupted due to the mob raids. Due to these incidents, several district-level results may be annulled.

Official Results

By October 10, Central Election Commission of Georgia has published the following results from all 3,702 precincts for the party-list vote:

Turnout: 51 %

Georgian Dream – 48.65%
UNM – 27.12%
Alliance of Patriots – 5%
Free Democrats – 4.62%

The process was particularly tense for Alliance of Patriots, as the CEC changed the result from 4.99% to 5% several times.

Of the 73 majoritarian constituencies only 22 candidates cleared the 50% threshold necessary for election at the first round, all of them from Georgian Dream. A second round will therefore be held in 51 constituencies, where in most cases Georgian Dream and United National Movement candidates will compete against each other. One of the exceptions is the Gori seat, where the GD and Free Democrats leader, Irakli Alasania, were to be the two main candidates. However, the leader of the Free Democrats has withdrawn from the race and announced that he is leaving politics.

These results will leave most parties outside parliament. The leader of the Democratic Movement, Nino Burjanadze, has said that he does not recognise the results of elections, while the leader of Republicans, David Usupashvili, accepted defeat.

Assesment of the International Observation Missions

The statement released by EU High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn assessed the elections as “competitive, well-administered” and said that fundamental freedoms were “generally respected”.

According to the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission, “the calm and open campaign atmosphere was, however, impacted by allegations of unlawful campaigning and some incidents of violence. Election Day generally proceeded in an orderly manner, but tensions increased during the day and several violent altercations took place near and in polling stations. However, voting was assessed positively in almost all polling stations”.

Fear of Constitutional Majority

Georgian Dream is eyeing a constitutional majority in the new parliament if it can win most of the run-off elections. It could win 113 seats in the parliament. A constitutional majority requires the support of three-quarters of the total number of MPs.

Georgian Dream has said that it wishes to initiate several constitutional amendments. Firstly, it wishes to define marriage as the union of a man and woman. Secondly, it has openly declared that the President should be elected by parliament instead of by a popular vote. They also wish to change the procedures for impeaching the president, as well as power to change the electoral system.

With only three parties likely to be represented in parliament, Georgia’s young democracy is about to enter a new cycle that will test its political and democratic stability.

Georgia ahead of Parliamentary Elections

Election date misunderstanding

Under the constitution, the Georgian Parliament’s 150 members serve four-year terms, with 77 seats set by proportional representation and 73 in single-seat constituencies. Georgia’s constitution calls for the next parliamentary elections to be held in October, with the country’s president setting the exact date no later than two months before voters go to the polls.

In April, six months ahead of elections, in a televised briefing President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili set the upcoming parliamentary election date for October 8. The timing of the announcement has caused another misunderstanding between the president and the major political parties, which received such an early announcement with little enthusiasm. Some political parties noted that such a long pre-electoral campaign favors the ruling Georgian Dream party, which is in control of administrative resources.

President Margvelashvili, however, defended his decision, saying that a lengthy campaigning season will benefit all of the parties who plan to take part. Later, PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili confirmed the date of parliamentary elections as October 8, however he did not confirm the official launch of the election campaign. It appears that the pre-election campaign dates remain subject to further discussions with the Central Election Commission (CEC).

“We cannot afford to pay an extra 7 or 8 million GEL (approximate USD 3.5 million) for such a lengthy pre-election campaign. We are discussing all of the technical and financial issues with the CEC and we will make a decision on when to formally launch the campaign cycle,” noted Kvirikashvili.

The official pre-election campaign for the next parliamentary elections in Georgia was only launched on June 10, 2016, two months after the President’s initial decision, when Giorgi Margvelashvili issued another decree with regards to his constitutional duty.

Although the date was set finally, the electoral environment looks far from being ready for E-day: the ruling Coalition was dissolved and the component parties are expected to run for election independently. Moreover, a number of politicians from the Georgian Dream Party have founded new political organisations for the upcoming elections. In addition to these internal struggles, issues relating to media freedom, a fair electoral environment, and inability to reach the achievement on the new electoral system are the major challenges facing the ruling Georgian Dream group.

Disagreement over the electoral reform

An interparty group was unable to reach a favorable outcome on the major electoral reform with the Georgian government, parliament and the ruling Georgian Dream party. Negotiations lasting for months encompassed changes in the electoral system, the composition of the Central Election Commission, TV advertising during pre-election campaign period, and the ratio of political party representatives in the Central Election Commission. In addition, political parties discussed the possibility of lowering the threshold for representation from 5 to 2 %.

The opposition parties claimed that the ruling coalition (at that time) and the executive government did not demonstrate the political will necessary for implementing major election related changes prior to the next Parliamentary elections.

For its part, Georgian Dream refused to dismiss the majoritarian system for the upcoming elections and expressed its readiness to enact such changes for the parliamentary elections of 2020, but not earlier.

However, it was still able to propose a change in the Electoral Code, according to which 11 electoral subjects will be able to use TV advertising time free of charge. Private TV broadcasters expressed their dissatisfaction towards the amendments that will be financially damaging for the companies.

The dissolved Georgian Dream and the renewed United National Movement

Just before starting the pre-election campaigning the ruling Coalition Georgian Dream was dissolved with its 6 political parties getting ready to participate in the elections independently. The newest of the former coalition member parties, the Georgian Dream Party itself, was founded by the former PM of Georgia, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. Ivanishvili resigned as PM in 2014 but remains as the party leader behind the scenes. The 2016 parliamentary elections will be the first time that Georgian Dream will participate as an independent electoral party. Its former partners (Republicans, Conservatives, National Forum, Industrialists, Free Democrats) have more electoral experience but have little hope of clearing the threshold on their own.

On the other hand, the major opposition and the former ruling party, the United National Movement (UNM), has announced the policy of so-called renewal, or new-blood candidates. The UNM has already announced its top 10 candidates, consisting of former high officials and civil servants in charge of foreign policy, Euroatlantic integration and diplomacy.

Meanwhile, the law enforcement agencies are investigating the events of 22nd May, 2016, when the UNM leaders were attacked in the village of Kortskheli during the by-elections. Six men have been charged, without being arrested, in connection to the Kortskheli violence. Lawmakers from UNM party, who are currently boycotting the Parliament over the Kortskheli incident, accuse the energy minister and general secretary of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Kakha Kaladze, of being behind the group.

The incident was highlighted in a statement issued by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in its pre-election assessment mission. The report, issued on June 17, called the event “a particularly alarming incident, ” adding that civil society and opposition as well as governing political parties lack confidence that the police, prosecutors, or courts can be relied upon to respond – whether to electoral disputes or physical confrontations – in a timely, impartial, and effective manner.

Visa Liberalisation with Europe

Meantime, citizens of Georgia are expecting the lifting visa requirements with the European Union. Although Brussels positively assessed Georgia’s progress in implementing a Visa Liberalisation Action Plan in December 2015, the EU remains hesitant to take the final decision. The EPP party group president, Joseph Daul, was first to link the outcome of parliamentary elections to the visa liberalization. Civil society organizations in Georgia feared that the topic of visa free movement with Europe would be used for political gain by different political groups and asked Daul to support the European aspiration of Georgian citizens.

Later, Mr. Daul, who is closely linked to United National Movement, had to deny any such relation between the elections and the lifting of visa requirements. During his visit to Gorgia in March 2016, he clarified that current challenges of the EU might be the major reasons behind the delaying of the decision on a visa-free regime.

Merabishvili Case

After the 2012 parliamentary elections, when the UNM lost its majority to the Georgian Dream, several leaders of the UNM were arrested and later sentenced. They included the former elected Mayor of Tbilisi, Giorgi Ugulava, as well as secretary general of the UNM and former PM, Ivane Merabishvili, and former Defense Minister Bachana Akhalaia. The UNM has accused Georgian Dream of trying to defeat former ruling party with the arrests.

Recently, in June the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the detention of Georgia’s ex-interior minister Vano Merabishvili was “used not only for the purpose of bringing” him before the relevant legal authorities on “reasonable suspicion” of various offenses with which he had been charged, “but was also treated by the prosecuting authorities as an additional opportunity to obtain leverage” over investigations into unrelated cases, including the one against ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili.

As a result, the Strasbourg-based court found that there has been a violation of Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) of the European Convention on Human Rights taken in conjunction with Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security).

The UNM views the decision as a conformation that its leaders are being held as political prisoners in the country and repeatedly accuses Georgian Dream of using undemocratic tactics when dealing with political opposition

Rustavi 2 and press freedom case

One of the major guarantees of free and fair pre-electoral campaigning is the existence of a free media. For almost a year, the major opposition TV channel in Georgia, Rustavi 2 case, has been involved in a court case as the former owner who sold his shares back in 2006 appealed to the court to demand annulation of the sales contracts and over 18 million GEL ($7.5 million) from Rustavi 2’s current owners. As reported by Eurasianet, Khalvashi (the former owner) claimed that he was forced by President Saakashvili to give up the company in 2006 and transfer it to the owners who were chosen by the ex-president.

Rustavi 2 considered the event to be an attempted attack on the free media. Rustavi 2’s current Director, Nika Gvaramia, said he suspected that the judges are under the influence of the government. On the TV Show, “Archevani” Gvaramia stated the government, in his opinion, is interested in the disappearance of a critical media before the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Apart from the Rustavi 2 case, anumber of popular political talk shows have recently been closed down and popular journalists have been dismissed from the Public Broadcast, Imedi TV and Maestro TV.

Three months ahead of parliamentary elections – a major test for Georgia’s democracy – the electoral environment remains fragile due to the suspicions about the existence of political prisoners, attacks on media, and ambiguity about the electoral system.

Weaker Presidents, Better Semi-presidentialism?

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Sophia Moestrup and I have just published another edited volume on semi-presidentialism. This time the focus is on Semi-presidentialism in the Caucasus and Central Asia. There are contributions from Alex Baturo on vertical power in the post-Soviet space, Alexander Markarov on Armenia, Jody LaPorte on Azerbaijan, Malkhaz Nakashidze on Georgia, Dmitry Nurumov and Vasil Vashchanka on Kazakhstan, and Matto Fumagalli on Kyrgyzstan. Sophia and I contribute two chapters. The first addresses some misconceptions about the notion of semi-presidentlaism, such as the idea that semi-presidential regimes must have quite powerful presidents but never very powerful or very weak presidents, and also that autocracies cannot be semi-presidential – they can, not least because semi-presidential regimes do not have to comprise only countries with quite powerful presidents. Our second chapter sums up the contributions to to the volume and argues that weaker presidents make for better semi-presidentialism. This is a brief summary of this second chapter.

The main attraction of institutional analysis is that it has the potential to generate better political outcomes. Given the assumption that institutions matter, we may be able to craft them so as to mitigate or even eradicate some of the negative outcomes that would otherwise be caused by the behaviour of political actors. We wish to draw one institutional policy recommendation from this book. All else equal, countries with weaker presidents are likely to experience better outcomes than countries with stronger presidents.

There is evidence from Armenia, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan that weaker presidents have been associated with better outcomes. In Kyrgyzstan the decline in the president’s constitutional powers has been dramatic. That said, the shift to a weak president is relatively new, dating back to 2010. Kyrgyzstan also has a history of democratic reversals. So, we should avoid any definitive judgement at this early stage. More than that, the shift occurred in the context of the collapse of the previous regime and the desire on the part of the constitution builders to trammel the power of the presidency, which was seen as one of the main obstacles to democratic consolidation under the previous regime. This suggests that any positive effects of the weak presidency may be endogenous to the choice of the new institutional framework. All the same, we note that the early period of the new constitutional framework has been marked by less presidential posturing, less executive/legislative conflict, and, for now at least, less democratic backsliding. These are positive signs.

In Armenia, the decline in presidential power has been less dramatic. The president’s constitutional powers were never as great as the other countries in the region. Moreover, even after the passage of the 2005 reforms, the president still enjoyed some not inconsiderable constitutional powers. What is more, as in Kyrgyzstan, the context in which the president’s powers were reduced in 2005 means that we have to take account of the problem of endogenous institutional choice. Further still, Armenia remains a hybrid democratic regime in which there is plenty of political competition, but where democratic procedures have been manipulated to the advantage of incumbent power holders, although perhaps less so in the most recent elections than previously. In this context, we have to be careful about any lessons that we might we wish to draw from the Armenian case. Even so, we might benefit from thinking counterfactually. What would be the situation if there were now a super-president in Armenia? Would the situation be worse? We cannot know. Yet, we do know that in practice there was a form of super-presidentialism after the passage of the 1995 constitution. We can also confidently claim that this period marked the low point of democratic performance in Armenia to date. Armenia has not experienced a weak presidency, but it has experienced very strong presidents. It is not unreasonable to conclude by comparing the experience of the 1995-2005 super-presidency and the post-2005 period that the latter was less problematic.

By far the strongest evidence, though, comes from Georgia. Here, there were two periods when the problem of endogenous institutional choice was at least partly offset because of a dramatic change in the political context. In the first period there was a very strong president. In the second period, there was a very weak president. In this latter case, it is tempting to think in terms of quasi-experimental conditions. In the same historical, cultural, economic, and social context, there was an institutional treatment, namely the move to a weak presidency. The result has been much better political performance. The period of cohabitation under the previous president-parliamentary form of semi-presidentialism was marked by intense president/prime ministerial conflict as well as conflict between the president and the government and legislature generally. By contrast, the recent period under the weak presidency and a premier-presidential form of government has, to date, been characterized by much calmer relations. Indeed, this latter period is doubly interesting because the president distanced himself from his former political allies immediately after his election. The resulting situation should not be classed as a period of cohabitation, but it is certainly not a period where the president’s loyalty to the ruling party has quashed, perhaps artificially, any political competition within the executive branch. While there have been major disagreements between the president and the government, they have not become regime threatening. Indeed, arguably, post-2013 president/government relations in Georgia resemble those in countries like the Czech Republic or Slovakia where weak but directly elected presidents act as a counterweight to the government, but where there are no serious attempts to assume real presidential power.

If we are right to conclude that weaker presidents are better presidents, then we also wish to assert that the party system is an important intervening variable, as indicated above. It is perhaps no coincidence that in Georgia there has been a solid parliamentary majority since 2013. In other words, the president has not had the opportunity to try to offset his weak constitutional powers by building an alternative and potentially destabilizing pro-presidential coalition within the legislature. We might add that there has also been a relatively stable legislative majority in Kyrgyzstan since the 2010 reforms. Again, the president has not had the incentive to craft a majority that is personally loyal to him and that often requires the distribution of state resources in a geographically skewed and perhaps even corrupt way. In Armenia, by contrast, presidents have not always enjoyed a parliamentary majority and have been forced to forge coalitions in the legislature. This perhaps helps to account for the continued presence of a patronage president in a way that harms the rational functioning of the regime and democratic performance. Indeed, the recent constitutional reform that will introduce a parliamentary system after the next electoral contests might confirm this suspicion. The introduction of a parliamentary system and a weak president should be a positive development on the basis of our logic, but it may merely be a way of maintaining patronage politics in the context of an uninstitutionalized party system.

So, we acknowledge that many economic, social, and political factors affect political performance. We also believe that the party system is a particularly important variable for determining the practice of presidential politics. Even so, we claim that political performance is likely to be better when presidents have fewer powers. This suggests that constitution makers should consider the benefits of reforms that reduce the power of their presidency. We are aware that our conclusion assumes that institutions matter and, therefore, is susceptible to the problem of endogenous institutional choice, but we would like to address the endogeneity problem by arguing that even endogenously chosen weak presidents are better than endogenously chosen strong presidents. In other words, we believe that there are benefits to be gained from the endogenous selection of weak presidents. We should endeavour to create the conditions for decision makers to calculate that their system would benefit from a weak presidency. Fundamentally, if we are right that weak presidents bring benefits, we are unconcerned whether this outcome comes about endogenously or exogenously. That said, even if institutions are chosen endogenously, political actors still have to interpret the institutions with which they are faced. At some point, the economic, social, or political context is likely to change. At that point, if not before, institutions may have at least a partly exogenous impact. In those circumstances, it is better to have a weak presidency in place than a strong one. In other words, we would encourage upstream efforts to create the conditions for a constitutionally weak president. We believe that there are benefits to be gained from a system in which actors are willing to work without the presence of a super-president and that these benefits are likely to be both endogenous to institutional choice and at some point exogenous too.

We wish to make one final point. We promote the idea of a weak presidency, but we also wish to promote a weak presidency in the context of a wider constitutional and political system in which there is a genuine separation of powers and checks and balances. For example, we are not convinced that there are benefits to be gained from replacing a system in which there is a super-president and a weak prime minister by one where there is a weak president and a super-prime minister. This merely shifts the problem. It does not replace it. And it may characterise what is about to happen in Armenia. Let us express this point differently. We are not opposed to weak but directly elected presidents. As we argue in our introduction to the volume, semi-presidential constitutions are consistent with both very strong and very weak presidents. We prefer the latter. Let us make the same point in another way. We do not believe that parliamentarism with a weak but indirectly elected president is necessarily a guarantee of better political performance if there are no checks on the prime minister in the parliamentary system.

To sum up, we are happy to recommend a directly elected president as long as the president’s powers are weak and are exercised in the context of a system in which power is not concentrated in any political actor.

Georgia – Ruling Coalition Dissolved

The Georgian Dream Coalition, which has ruled the country and held a majority in parliament since the elections of 2012, has dissolved just months before the next parliamentary elections.

Although the major opposition and the former ruling party, the United National Movement, began to speculate about the possible break-up of the ruling coalition much earlier, the dissolution has occurred in the run up to the next elections.

The Georgian Dream – Democratic Party emerged only in 2012 when its billionaire founder, Bidzina Ivanishvili, stepped onto the Georgian political stage. At that time, Ivanishvili established a coalition for the parliamentary elections, uniting the Republicans, Free Democrats, Conservatives, Industrialists, the National Forum, and a few independent politicians under the umbrella of the Georgian Dream.

The Georgian Dream party (GD) itself has always held a leading role in the coalition and, accordingly, GD party candidates dominated the electoral list and, later, cabinet of ministers in the government.

The first signs of discord in the coalition came in November 2014, when the Free Democrats, led by the former Defense minister, Irakli Albania, split from the coalition. With this move, the Free Democrats (FD) also lost all their leading positions in Parliament and government. FD still has a group (10 lawmakers) in the current parliament, but is in opposition to the current government.

The Republican Party, which was founded in 1978 and is based on liberal values, has always been viewed as the number two of the coalition. The Republicans strengthened their position inside the coalition, especially after the Free Democrats left: they have the chairman of the parliament, a parliamentary group, and three ministers in the cabinet (one of them being the Defense ministry).

Former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, who founded GD party and the coalition, spoke about the need for a reshuffle in October 2015, when he noted that at least half of the current lawmakers from the ruling coalition may not appear on the party list of candidates for 2016 parliamentary elections.

Ivanishvili, although he holds no official position, is regarded as the informal ruler of the coalition and the government. Thus, his statement carried a clear message that the future of the parties inside the coalition was uncertain.

Beginning in March 2016, the Republicans announced about the “strategic partnership” deal with the Georgian Dream party. However, the essence of the particular partnership was never explained to the public as it became apparent that the Republicans were simply fighting for extra places on the electoral list.

The possible bilateral deal with the Republicans was confirmed by the Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who stated that the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG), was considering a partnership agreement with the Republican Party and that others within the coalition would have to join if GD was to remain a multi-party entity for the October 2016 parliamentary elections.

However, PM Kvirikashvili also added: “GD Party will of course be renewed to a significant extent and there will be a consolidation over joint goals. Overall, if we run in the elections as a coalition, the team will unite over very clear goals, which are based on our best values and traditions and of course on a consensus over Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic future.”

Interestingly, the Georgian Dream coalition has united parties of different values and visions and for that reason was often referred as an eclectic creation, bringing together left, right, socialists and conservatives.

By mid-March, divisions between the ruling majority parties became evident. In particular, two of them – the Industrialists and Republicans – were engaged in a public confrontation for weeks. Furthermore, one of the leaders of the Industrialist Party, MP Gogi Topadze, accused Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party of manipulating Sagarejo MP by-election results in October 2015.

Conscious uncoupling

By the end of March 2016, the Republicans announced that they had decided what they were going to do at the upcoming elections. However, the public waited for the statement for three days, suspecting that the Republicans were taking final attempts to agree on their terms for the elections.

On March 31, the Chairperson of the Republican Party, Khatuna Samnidze, stated that, the party had taken its decision to run independently at a meeting on March 27 but had delayed the announcement due to the PM Kvirikashvili’s request.

Later, the Chair of the Parliament and the Republican, David Usupashvili, clarified the party’s decision. “It was clear for us that the priority of the Georgian Dream party is to run separately in the upcoming elections. We accept this reality and challenge, which is normal for a multi-party political system … To some extent, this is also a novelty in Georgian political life. Many ask how we can manage to be partners and competitors at the same time – that’s how it works; European democracy is unimaginable otherwise,” stated Usupashvili.

It is worth nothing that the break up of the Republicans from the coalition did not result in resignation of party ministers from the ruling cabinet. Furthermore, Republicans confirmed that they would continue working as a team in the government, until the PM decides to dismiss them.

Even after the Republicans left, the Georgian Dream did not confirm the dissolution of the coalition. Only later did formal statements come from the Conservatives and the National Forum confirming their decision to run independently in the elections. Only the Industrialists abstained from a formal divorce.

The Georgian Dream party is expected to hold its party convention next month and promises to present its electoral list for the next elections.

Opinion Polls

NDI Opinion Poll Results, April 2016

NDI Opinion Poll Results, April 2016

On April 13, 2016 the National Democratic Institute (NDI) published the recent nationwide opinion polls. According to the survey, 61% of Georgians are undecided about their vote in the parliamentary elections. The polls demonstrated 16% support for Georgian Dream and 15% for the major opposition party, the United National Movement.

In October 2016, Georgia’s political parties need to overcome a 5% threshold in order to qualify for parliament. With the current political setting, it will be necessary to create coalitions within the parliament only after the election, something which will itself be unprecedented in the history of independent Georgia.