Extraordinary Session of the Parliament of Georgia

21 Jun 2017
Extraordinary Session of the Parliament of Georgia

During extraordinary session of the Parliament, the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, the Chair of the Steering Commission on Promulgation and Public Consideration of the Draft Constitutional Law, Irakli Kobakhidze, evaluated the results of public consideration of the draft constitutional law, which took place in Georgia for a month.

Irakli Kobakhidze spoke of the four-month activity of the Constitutional Commission.

“The effective constitution is deficient, has a number of technical and content-related shortcomings. Constitutional bodies, especially the Government and the President of Georgia, have vague separation of competences. Relations between the powers are not balanced. There are a number of specific norms containing many content-related flaws”. – Irakli Kobakhidze stated.

According to the Speaker, the Parliament of Georgia set two specific goals to the State Constitutional Commission – These were ensuring full compliance of the constitution with legal principles and developing an elaborate parliamentary system. “The document presented today pursues these two goals”, - Irakli Kobakhidze stated.
According to the Speaker of the Parliament, the Commission made a decision to retain the preamble, as a historical part, unchanged.

The Speaker referred to most frequently asked questions during public consideration of the draft constitutional law.
“One issue was elections of the president, regarding which certain opinions were expressed. In addition, some questions were related to the powers of the President. Voting system was one of the key issues, emphasizing substantially proportional voting system as well as abolishing majoritarian system. Two main issues were outlined with particularly emotional public discussion: specifying the definition of a marriage at the level of the constitution and constitutional and legislative arrangement of land disposal matters”, - Irakli Kobakhidze said.
The Speaker of the Parliament spoke about specific chapters of the main law of the country in detail.
According to Irakli Kobakhidze, specific articles of Chapter one refer to the principle of the sovereignty of state, state symbols, democracy, rule-of-law state, social state and principles of economic freedom.

He also mentioned the changes with regard to administrative-territorial system.

According to Irakli Kobakhidze, there are significant additions regarding self-government, with increased guarantees of local self-government.

“Chapter one reflects four fundamental principles the new version of the constitution is based on. These are the principles of democracy, rule-of-law state, social state and economic freedom”, Irakli Kobakhidze said.
In speaking about changes related to major human rights, he mentioned that human rights protection Standard has risen significantly.

“This article refers to major human right of human dignity, standards have been raised in relation to equality and it contains gender equality right. In addition, rights and interests of persons with disabilities are protected. This article also defines a major right of internet accessibility, independence of the Public Broadcaster etc. These are the major rights which are reflected in the main law of the country.” – Irakli Kobakhidze stated.

According to the Speaker of the Parliament, the document presents a number of major changes in relation to the Parliament of Georgia strengthening the parliament as one of the key constitutional bodies within this system. He emphasized a number of significant changes strengthening the role of the opposition in Parliamentary life.
“A new rule for establishment of investigative commissions is introduced. According to the rule, parliamentary opposition has possibility to establish investigative commissions. In addition, the rule for creating factions is also defined”. Irakli Kobakhidze said.

He particularly emphasized the voting system and mentioned that the main text mentions moving to a proportional system. He also mentioned the so-called system of bonuses. The document presents three major elements of the system. 5% threshold, which remains unchanged, the institution of a party block and so-called bonus, which, according to the presenter, received wide discussion, are abolished.

The discussion referred to various theoretical possibilities. We decided to set a strict limit to bonuses, which has been established in three ways: First of all, there is the absolute cap, meaning that a party should not receive over 89 mandates at the expense of a bonus, the second is the relative cap, which means that the number of additional mandates should not surpass 35% of the major mandates and the third is the absolute collar, meaning that if a party cannot gain the absolute majority of 76 votes, the bonus loses its sense and it will not be distributed.” – Irakli Kobakhidze stated.

The presenter also spoke of the election procedure and powers of the president. According to him, the status and the competences of the president of Georgia remain unchanged. He mentioned the change related to the competence of submission of the Supreme Court members. The recommendation of the Venice Commission was to transfer this competence to the High Council of Justice. The second change referred to the Security Council. This council is absolutely ineffective which is due to the current constitution, because it regulates the issue inappropriately”, - Irakli Kobakhidze mentioned. The election procedure of the President is changed and it moves from direct to indirect procedure.

“The transitional provisions include a norm, according to which constitutional changes will be effective from the moment of taking the oath by a newly-elected president, which means that the president will be elected by a direct procedure in 2018 and the indirect procedure will become effective from the next presidential elections”- Irakli Kobakhidze said.

He also spoke of the changes discussed in relation to the constitutional government.

According to him, one of the weak parts of the effective constitution is the Government of Georgia. The “Non-confidence procedure was extremely complicated on which the Venice Commission had remarks. Regarding the mentioned issue all the remarks and recommendations have been reflected in the presented document” – Irakli Kobakhidze said. According to him, it is important to note that the degree of accountability, as well as responsibility of the Government in general, in relation to the Parliament of Georgia rises.

According to Irakli Kobakhidze, significant changes are introduced in the chapter of the Judiciary and the Prosecutor’s Office.

With regard to the Constitutional Court, establishment procedure remains unchanged. The only thing here is, we share the recommendation of the Venice Commission according to which qualified majority should be established for electing Constitutional Court judges. Such qualified majority is defined as 90 parliamentarians. In accordance with the recommendation of the Venice Commission, the procedure for electing a qualified majority refers to the procedures for electing the Public Defender of Georgia and High Court of Justice. The amendments refer to the competences of the Constitutional Court of Georgia. It is important that the Constitutional Court will have the competence for declaring the elections held as unconstitutional. Based on the document, the Supreme Court shall be made up of 28 judges. Today 13 judges are presented and increasing their number is important to ensure effective functioning of the body”- the presenter noted. According to him, “the Parliament elects Supreme Court Judges upon submission of the High Council of Justice for life tenure and the Chairmen from among its members for a term of ten years. In accordance with the recommendation of the Venice Commission, this procedure should exclude the Parliament. Yet, we believe that cutting this power from the Parliament is not justified. It would be better for the parliament to be involved in making such a decision and to share political responsibility for making the decision. However, we can still discuss the issue” – Irakli Kobakhidze addressed his colleagues.
He mentioned that Prosecutor’s Office is separated from the system of the executive power and its development into an independent constitutional body. “I believe that this change will promote increasing the degree of independence of the Prosecutor’s Office” – the Speaker of the Parliament said.

While speaking of controlling state finances, Irakli Kobakhidze mentioned that amendments have been introduced into chapter seven, with regard to the budget and taxes. The new edition does not envisage requirement of coincidence of the budgetary and calendar years.

While referring to the chapter of local self-government, the presenter mentioned that most important guarantees have been added incompliance with the guarantees of European Charter of Local Self-Government.
According to Irakli Kobakhidze, the new edition introduces the so-called plural vote principle, according to which, it is possible to adopt the constitution with 2/3 majority. “This decision should definitely be approved by the next-term parliament; otherwise adopting the constitution is only possible by ¾ majority.” The Speaker said.
He also emphasized reflecting the foreign priorities of Georgia in the main document of the country.
“Chapter 11 contains only one norm which determines obligations of the constitutional bodies to take all measures within their competence to ensure full integration of Georgia into NATO and the EU. Our foreign policy priority has already been reflected in the major document of the country”. – Irakli Kobakhidze said. According to him, this law will enter into effect from the moment of taking the oath by a newly elected president. According to the presenter, it is also determined that a number of laws acquire the status of organic law.

The Speaker of the Parliament also spoke of the timeframe for enactment of particular norms.

According to Irakli Kobakhidze, the Venice Commission has already confirmed compliance of the new edition of the Constitution with legal principles. The Venice Commission has presented 23 recommendations, out of which we unconditionally accepted 21. We did not accept only two of the recommendations. In accordance with the recommendation regarding submission of Supreme Court judges, the Parliament should not be involved and the second one is related to draft budget, where the possibility is to make amendments into the budget without approval of the government. In our opinion, this contradicts the logic of political management. We believe that this will not strengthen the Parliament, but, on the contrary, will weaken it”, - Irakli Kobakhidze stated.

He also mentioned that the current procedure is based on the principle of consensus. “This is much more correct and logic procedure”, - he said.

After presenting the draft, the session went on with questions and answers.

The questions mostly referred to election procedure of the president and the parliament, timeframe for enactment of the law and Venice Commission recommendations.

Parliamentary Minority wanted to know why the governing team had not accepted the position of the Speaker regarding a change to a proportional voting system from 2020.

According to the explanation of Irakli Kobakhidze, there are different opinions within the governing team with regard to the timeframe for moving towards the proportional system of voting. “There was a discussion within the majority and we are proud of this. It is impossible for 116 people to be of the same opinion, especially about principal issues. The position was stated that next elections would take place based on the proportional system. The discussion is about establishment of a 3% threshold in condition of abolishing party blocks. From 2024 moving towards proportional system is considered.” The Speaker mentioned.

The Speaker also responded to the question of a representative of the Parliamentary Minority on abolishment of the Security Council. “Security Council is a body with zero efficiency and its abolishment will be reflected on the security and defense potential of the country at a zero level.”, - the Speaker of the Parliament said.

The Speaker answered a question of MPs regarding change of the direct election procedure of the President. According to him, a presidential candidate should not become a subject of political criticism. “Otherwise, a president elected in this manner will find it difficult to play the role of a non-party figure,” – the Speaker of the Parliament said.

While speaking of the reasons for the reasons for postponing indirect election procedure for the president, Irakli Kobakhidze mentioned, that the effective president should be given at least a theoretical chance to stand for the presidential elections for the second time.

“We believe that it is better for the Parliamentary system of today and tomorrow to elect the president by direct procedure, however, we considered the fact that the current president should be given at least a theoretical chance to take part in the presidential elections. Considering this personal factor resulted in postponing full enactment of the system for 6 years. This was advised and approved by the Venice Commission. Therefore, indirect presidential elections will be held for the first time in 2023,” – Irakli Kobakhidze said.

Part of the Parliamentary Majority oppose the initiative reflected within the corrected version of the constitutional changes, based on which, the right to hold a referendum regarding introduction of common state tax will still be valid for 12 years. The mentioned statement was made by a member of the Majority, Dimitri Tskitishvili, whose opinion was shared by MPs Beka Natsvlishvili and Ghia Zhorzholiani. According to them, the mentioned date may be linked to the Parliamentary Elections. “As for article 94 in the old version and article 67 in the new one, the Government position referred to the time for postponing the temporary regulation. In approximately 12 years Gross Domestic Product per capita will reach 10,000 USD, after which a more flexible policy will become possible – this, approximately is the essence of the position”, - Irakli Kobakhidze stated.

A member of the Parliamentary Majority, Aleksandre Kantaria, spoke about the initiative to introduce a provision about defending national values in the Constitution. The Speaker considered discussing such a provision a possibility during the second reading.

An opinion was expressed that the Parliament, as a body defining the foreign policy, may be provided with the opportunity to participate in appointment of ambassadors, so that it can be involved in forming foreign policy in this way, as well. According to Irakli Kobakhidze, this issue requires consultations with the Government of Georgia and such a possibility will be provided to the Parliament before the second reading.

According to the member of the Parliamentary Majority, Revaz Arveladze, he wanted a provision regarding location of the Parliament of Georgia as the Capital of Georgia to be retained within the constitution. The mentioned opinion was shared by a member of the Parliamentary Majority, Endzela Machavariani. According to the Speaker of the Parliament, political promise that the Parliament will be in Kutaisi before Kutaisi gains another function will remain in force.

After the break, the meeting continued with speeches of the representatives of factions.

Members of the Parliamentary Minority expressed critical views on the amendments envisaged under the constitutional law. The leader of the Parliamentary Minority, Davit Bakradze, mentioned that the Faction – European Georgia made a decision on leaving the sitting hall. “We are leaving the sitting hall and will provide an opportunity to the Majority with the votes of just one party, to adopt these amendments peacefully, supported by just one party”, - Bakradze said.

According to him, it was clear during the debates that the majority is clear about its principles, which, European Georgia believes, are against the will of the Georgian people.

“We expressed our position; we spoke about our opinion, our questions, and our opposition with Georgian people. There is only one method for parliamentary political fight beyond that, not to participate in subsequent discussion. And this is what European Georgia will do”, - Bakradze mentioned.

The Leader of the Parliamentary Minority emphasized only three major points regarding constitutional changes. “The first thing is that we take the right of electing a president away from Georgian people, the second is that a promise of a move to a proportional system was postponed for eight years and the third is that these amendments are adopted in a complete anti consensus, when they will be adopted with the votes of just one party”, Davit Bakradze said.

The Chairperson of the Faction European Georgia addressed the authority with an initiative to hold a plebiscite on the amendments.

The leader of the Parliamentary Majority, Archil Talakvadze, thanked the people, involved in the activity of the Constitutional Commission.

“Today we are participants of a very important process. I would like to thank those people, who participated in the activity of the Constitutional Commission, in public discussions and those who worked so that our colleagues in the European Parliament, the Venice Commission and other partners had a full information on what we are going to change.”

Archil Talakvadze spoke about leaving the sitting hall by members of European Georgia and stated that all their opinions regarding the draft constitutional law lack foundation.

Archil Talakvadze explained again the proposed amendments in accordance with the draft law. “We are changing the constitution, which the previous government wanted to themselves and which inclinations are obvious in various chapters.” In his opinion, the new edition of the constitution is based on four major principles: strong Parliament, effective government, independent judiciary, a supra-partisan president and the process of public discussion demonstrated that nobody is against this.

According to the leader of the Majority, the new constitution will have new standards and new principles having a full support of the public.

The leader of the Parliamentary Majority spoke about the suggestion of European Georgia on holding a plebiscite. In his opinion, the suggestion is hypocritical. “They cannot deceive the society using such simple tricks. We have already met and spoke to the people in all the regions. We spoke with the Europeans and we spoke with our partners,” – Archil Talakvadze said.

According to the leader of the Majority, predictability of the constitution is exactly an opportunity for a long-term development of the country.

Archil Talakvadze spoke once more about the electoral system, the procedure for electing the president, and the system of bonuses. According to him, a firm decision will be made during the spring session and Georgia will definitely move towards democratic electoral system. “This will be reflected on the future elections and we are ready to reduce the threshold and remove even theoretical risks for the system of bonuses. As for the elections of the President, we are saying that we are moving towards indirect elections after these elections already because we definitely consider this a more rational system,” Talakvadze stated.

The Majority Leader emphasized the opinion of the Venice Commission as well and mentioned that the Parliament and parliamentary system will make vagueness of the current situation and the current constitution comply with the European principles and the presidential mandate will also be like the one consistent with the European practice. According to him, visits of Irakli Kobakhidze and Thamar Chugoshvili made all the opponents lose arguments with regard to the constitution. “The Venice Commission said from the beginning in the preamble of the preliminary opinion that these amendments are directed towards progress and this is a better constitution and a better Georgia”, - Archil Talakvadze said.

The Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia addressed the MPs with a speech.

According to Irakli Kobakhidze, in the elections of 2016, Georgian electorate consciously declared constitutional trust to Georgian Dream.

“You remember that after the first tour the entire campaign was directed against Georgian Dream and the constitutional Majority. Despite that, the electorate made a pragmatic and rational decision and declared constitutional trust to us. One of the reasons was that we assumed appropriate responsibility towards our electorate. The pre-election program of Georgian Dream stated that we would definitely elaborate the main law of the country and would make it in compliance with the fundamental principle of the separation of powers. This is our obligation arising from the program towards the Georgian electorate which is being thoroughly completed by the political team of the Georgian Dream”, the Speaker said.

According to him, the effective constitution is most favorable for the governing team if it is driven by subjective political interests. Irakli Kobakhidze stated that the governing team took a different path and it is limiting its own political positions.

“This is done to the sole end – and this end is protecting the interests of the country. It is within the country’s interests to eliminate any threats of autocracy and ensure democratic development of our country in the long-term. This was our goal, this was the reason the State Constitutional Commission was established in December and this is the reason we dedicated our daily tireless work for four months to prepare the document presented today in the form of constitutional changes. This is the responsibility assumed towards the electorate, which will definitely be realized appropriately. This is our responsibility towards Georgian electorate”, - the Speaker said.

In his speech, Irakli Kobakhidze responded to leaving the plenary session by the parliamentary opposition. According to him, this step of the opposition is irrational. According to the speaker, political spectrum today is not mature for reaching a political consensus and changing this reality is, first of all, the duty of the governing party.
“It is impossible to become successful in politics without consistency. Speaking of consistency is useless when you leave the same room twice. These actions are completely irrational. You remember it was leaving the Commission first, and now leaving the plenary sitting. This is a very clear example of inconsistency where speaking of political success of these political powers is useless. We have mentioned many times that political spectrum today is not ready for reaching a consensus and is immature for compromises with regard to important issues. This is a sad reality of today and, first of all, it is the duty of our governing team to change this reality and establish the system of political relations, which will make future compromises and consensuses possible. Today, unfortunately, we saw once more that the opposition spectrum is not ready for the consensus or compromise.

Plebiscite was mentioned and it was said that proposed amendments are bad and such bad amendments should be supported in case they are supported by the public. This is another example of inconsistency – if the document is bad, how can it be supported even in case of public support?” – Irakli Kobakhidze said.

According to the Speaker of the Parliament, the constitution adopted as a result of the constitutional changes carried out in 2010 implies serious threats for autocracy and based on the political will of the governing party, the effective major law is changing with elaborate constitution in compliance with European standards. According to Irakli Kobakhidze this is a historic process.

“Major problem of the current constitution is that the Parliament is presented very weakly in the system. The Parliament is strengthened in quality based on various mechanisms. Furthermore, clear separation of competences between constitutional bodies is not ensured, fundamental principle of separation of powers is not observed and these flaws are being corrected. The regulations, related to defense and security, are absolutely confused and all these regulations are being rectified. Self-government guarantees increase etc. It is useless to speak how much progress we are reaching by the amendments carried out in the Parliament of Georgia now. This is truly a historic process. It is a historic event that once for all, we are changing the pro-authoritative constitution with a truly democratic and healthy constitution. We are participants of this historic process.” – The Speaker of the Parliament said, in addition, he mentioned that despite different opinions within the governing team, the consensus was reached. According to Irakli Kobakhidze, difference in opinions was presented as a negative thing from the point of opponents.

“Having opposite opinions means democracy to us, pluralism means democracy, this means that the team is alive, healthy and we welcome that of course. In this very healthy opposing regime with regard to the constitutional changes we managed to find consensus which is commendable and we must congratulate each other about it”, - the Speaker of the Parliament said.

The extraordinary session will continue tomorrow at 12:00 and Draft Constitutional Law of Georgia on the Autonomous Republic of Adjara will be discussed with first reading.