Georgia: Reform for elections, political associations and parliament rules should be “reconsidered”, according to Venice Commission
Strasbourg, 24.03.2021 – In a joint opinion, requested in December 2020 by the Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia and adopted at the latest plenary of the Venice Commission (19-20 March 2021), the OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission call on Georgia to reconsider several amendments to the Election Code, the Law on Political Associations of Citizens and the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament of Georgia.
With regard to the Election Code, proposed changes would infringe the rights of political parties to equal opportunities by denying them free airtime if they do not receive public funding. The denial of free airtime to those parties is both “disproportionate and unfounded”, as it is exactly these parties with less funds at their disposal that would need access to free airtime in order to voice their opinions and present their programmes to the electorate, according to the opinion.
Furthermore, not only is there no evident connection between allocating free airtime and receiving state funding that would justify such a step, but also such a restriction is not in the public interest, as it would reduce access to information that the public needs in order to make an informed choice in elections.
The Venice Commission also is concerned by proposed amendments to the Law on Political Associations of Citizens that would deny state funding to a political party or electoral bloc that did not take up at least half of the parliamentary mandates that it won, and would deprive the party or bloc of state funding for the next six months, if half of the members of parliament of any party or bloc did not attend without good reason more than half of the regular plenary sittings.
Sanctioning political parties – and not individual MPs – by depriving them of funding, if the respective MPs do not attend most sittings during a parliamentary session, appears “disproportionate” and at odds with the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, which already regulate such matters in a clear and balanced manner, according to the opinion.
Similar considerations apply to the proposed amendment to the Rules of Procedure of Parliament, which would result in the full deduction of the salary of an MP who does not attend without good reason all plenary sittings during a calendar month of the regular session, both for the period of the parliamentary session and for the ensuing recess period. This latter proposal also likely would not be compliant with the Constitution of Georgia, which makes salaries for Members of Parliament mandatory.
The opinion proposes considering “more proportionate and appropriate means” to achieve the goal of the amendments, which could involve imposing direct consequences on individual MPs for their actions. This would be more in line with the Georgian Constitution and international standards, the Venice Commission notes. “Such broad sanctions against parties not taking part in the Parliament’s work were not found in any other Venice Commission or OSCE/ODIHR member/participant states,” the opinion reads.
In a separate joint opinion, also requested last December by the Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia, the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR call on Georgia to reconsider adopting a proposed new provision – Article 791 – to the country’s electoral code, as related to the participation by an alien acting as party leader in pre-election campaigning. Adopting this amendment could lead to an unduly restriction of political pluralism, the Venice Commission warns, listing several concerns.
The proposed amendment does not clearly define which criteria would be used to determine who is considered to be an electoral list’s or party’s political leader. Besides, while the right to vote and stand for election may be subject to some conditions, including the respective individual’s nationality, restrictions of aliens to participate in domestic political life should be limited to the establishment of political parties, but not to their membership. Furthermore, the sanction of deregistering a party list due to the foreign nationality of a person acting as its political leader seems a disproportionate measure that targets the party rather than the alien in question.
The appeals process regarding such deregistration as defined by the proposed amendment is "worrying" because deregistration of a party or electoral block can be made up to two days after elections: a decision may be taken after votes have been cast and voters might in good faith vote for a party which may then end up being deregistered.
Finally, the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR believe that the amendment could be perceived, in the strict sense, as ad hominem legislation, i.e. directed against a particular individual, a legislative technique previously criticized by the Venice Commission.
The opinions were prepared under the Quick response Mechanism in the framework of the EU/CoE joint programme Partnership for Good Governance”, co-funded by the Council of Europe and the European Union and implemented by the Council of Europe.
COE MEDIA RELEASE
/STRASBOURG/ We welcome the political agreement reached yesterday, 8 March, by the majority and opposition in Georgia on the 2020 electoral system, which puts an end to uncertainty that lasted for several months and opens the way to depolarization of the political debate, in the run-up of this year’s elections. Talks were facilitated by representatives of the international community in Georgia including from the European Union, the United States, Germany and the Council of Europe.
We look forward to the adoption in Parliament of the provisions of this agreement, as well as all other necessary changes to the electoral legislation, in line with international recommendations. The Council of Europe including its Venice Commission will continue to offer its assistance to Georgian authorities towards a successful completion of the process.
We commend political parties’ commitment to strive for the highest standards of functioning of Georgia’s judiciary, and protect judicial and electoral processes from inappropriate political interference. This will contribute to upholding the relevant provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights and the Council of Europe standards on electoral matters.
The Speaker, H.E. Irakli Kobakhidze met with the Venice Commission Delegation serving the visit to Georgia.
The parties discussed the bill on criterion and procedures of selection of the judges to the Supreme Court.
The Speaker introduced the procedure and novelties envisaged under the bill initiated by the ruling party. According to the Venice Commission members, the authority and the Venice Commission share the common goal – to improve judicial independence and liberation of the Court from the political influence.
The Venice Commission members expressed commitment for cooperation.
The Venice Commission serves the 2-day visit to Georgia to hold the meetings with the representatives of the legislative, executive and judicial authorities, Public Defender and NGOs.
On 10 October, the Delegation of the European Union to Georgia released a statement on the constitutional reform in the country. In the statement, it expressed its agreement with the opinion of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which positively assessed the reform.
“From early this year, the European Union voiced its expectation that the introduction of extensive amendments to the Constitution of Georgia would strengthen democracy and the rule of law, based on wide-ranging and inclusive consultations,” the EU said.
“We welcomed the commitment of the Georgian Parliament to consult the Venice Commission and fully incorporate its recommendations.”
The full text of the statement, which the EU Delegation issued in agreement with the EU Heads of Mission in Georgia, can be accessed here.
GEORGIA - Revision of the Constitution - Statement by the Venice Commission President Gianni BUQUICCHIOSaturday, 02 September 2017 11:58
Strasbourg, Council of Europe – The revision of the Constitution of Georgia is a major reform meant to transform the current political system into a genuine parliamentary democracy.
In June this year, the Venice Commission issued a positive assessment of the draft revised Constitution, including the declared move towards the fully proportional system of the election of all the members of Parliament. Moreover, we specifically welcomed active co-operation and the commitment of the Georgian parliament not to adopt any amendments negatively assessed by the Venice Commission.
Therefore, the postponement of the introduction of the proportional system to 2024, as well as the repeated failure of the Georgian parties to reach consensus on the revised Constitution through negotiations is disappointing.
The meeting on 6 September 2017 in Strasbourg has been cancelled. I would like to stress that it is essentially up to the Georgian parties themselves to conduct further negotiations and the involvement of the Venice Commission is not required for this process. We encourage all the parties to come to a large consensus on the text through constructive dialogue.
We expect to receive shortly the revised draft of the Constitution from the Georgian authorities and will issue an opinion on it in one month, at the October plenary session (6-7 October in Venice). We encourage the Georgian parliament, before finally adopting the revised draft, to make changes in the light of this opinion and of the dialogue with all Georgian political parties.
Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili met today in Batumi with President Gianni Buquicchio of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.
The parties discussed the constitutional amendments initiated by the ruling team, which seek to put in place a well-balanced constitution grounded in democratic principles.
According to the Prime Minister, these amendments, developed based on unprecedented public debates by the Constitutional Commission bringing together politicians, NGOs, and independent experts, will enable Georgia to have a constitution that ensures a comprehensive parliamentary model of government, greater effectiveness of the government, better defined functions of the president as a neutral arbiter, and stronger protection of human rights and society as a whole.
The conversation also involved the date of switchover to proportional representation planned in 2024. The Prime Minister emphasized the fact of the introduction of proportional representation being a demonstration of the ruling team's political will, it is a great achievement, as this issue never even was on the table under the previous governments.
The meeting was also attended by Georgia's Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze, Speaker of the Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze, and parliamentary majority leader Archil Talakvadze.
The meeting between the Georgian Prime Minister and the President of the Venice Commission was held under the 17th Congress of European Constitutional Courts in Batumi.
The President of Georgia, H.E. Giorgi Margvelashvili has not considered the request of the Chairman of the Parliament, Mr. Irakli Kobakhidze to convene the special session and called on the Parliament not to adopt uncoordinated constitutional amendments in the accelerated manner.
"My refusal has a political content. I call on the Parliament not to adopt uncoordinated amendments in the accelerated manner. I encourage the Parliament to return to the recommendations and remarks suggested by the Venice Commission and propose the improved version of the Constitution. Let us create a document of agreement; the document that will be based on consensus and the fundamental principles proposed by the Venice Commission. We should not cause problems for the development of the Georgian democracy.
I hope that in this difficult period, respected deputies, the Parliamentary majority will not get involved in this extremely accelerated regime and continue to discuss the Constitution according to the principles that I have proposed", - stated President Margvelashvili.
The President has also assessed yesterday's decision of the parliamentary majority regarding the constitutional reform as an amendment that aims at reducing the power of the President’s Institute.
"Refusal of a transition to the proportional system - this amendment entirely changes the proposed project of the constitutional reform, which has been discussed by the Georgian society and the Venice Commission.
The name itself - fundamental amendments to the Constitution - and our expectation imply that the Georgian society would have taken another step in improving the Constitution; however, the only fundamental change which was made, was reducing the power of the President’s Institute. This concerns to the indirect presidential election system, functions and rights of a commander-in-chief and abolition of the National Security Council, all included in the draft; overall, all issues that we have been discussing from the very beginning when the Constitutional Commission was formed. This is a version of the Constitution, which has been adopted as a result of the attitude, directed against the President’s Institute”, - pointed out the President.
“According to our European colleagues, the changes to be introduced to the Constitution are positive and significant in all directions”, - the First Vice-Speaker, Tamar Chugoshvili stated after the meeting with the Secretary of Venice Commission, Thomas Markert.
The parties discussed the draft Constitution and considered the Constitutional reform issues entailing dissent. According to T. Chugoshvili, Mr. Markert confirmed that the changes developed by SCC regarding election of the Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Council of Justice are in compliance with the recommendations of Venice Commission.
“We emphasized the norms entailing dissent in Georgia and criticism. General estimation is that the text and the changes are positive and significant for the country in all directions, especially in terms of change of the electoral system. As to the particular opinions, the Venice Commission may have some technical remarks. Regarding two particular issues I can state that one of them concerns election of the Judges of the Supreme Court being subject of criticism that allegedly we deprive authorities from the President; the Venice Commission experts confirmed that the record is correct based on their recommendations and hence, the judicial system in Georgia shall be entitled to nominate the candidacies of Judges to the Supreme Court. The same is with the High Council of Justice – two changes regarding authority of the President, provided in the draft were confirmed by Venice Commission to be correctly reflected and in full compliance with their recommendations. To end the speculations taking place, we know the position on hereof issues and they are not subject to alteration”.
The Venice Commission expressed no remarks and gave the positive estimation to the proportional electoral system, 5% threshold and blocs. The meeting was attended by MP, Nino Goguadze. The Parliamentary Delegation serves the visit to Strasbourg to attend PACE Sessions, participate in Committee sittings and hold high rank meetings.
The First Vice-Speaker, Ms. Tamar Chugoshvili, within the visit to Strasbourg, is to meet with the Secretary of the Venice Commission, Mr. Thomas Markert to provide him with the summary on accomplishment of activity of the State Constitutional Commission.
“I, as the Secretary of the Commission, will to meet and provide the Venice Commission with the summary on the final stage of the activity of the Constitutional Commission and the Changes endorsed by the Constitutional Commission two days ago”, - she stated.
Immediately upon development of English version of the revision of Constitution, the Parliament will officially submit the draft to the Venice Commission for expert examination. “To prevent the decision deriving from our subjective interests or subjective interests of others and to ensure development of the best Constitution for the country, we state that the objective opinion of experts of Venice Commission is the starting point for us”.
The Parliamentary Delegation, headed by Ms. Chugoshvili serves the visit to Strasbourg to attend the PACE Spring Session on April 24-28.
Mr. Pedro Agramunt is to preside PACE with the second term. The PACE winter session held Strasbourg elected the President and the Vice-President.
Today, PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights elected the Chair of the Legal Issues Committee, Ms. Eka Beselia and the Lord Richard Balfe as the Members of the Council for Democratic Elections with the second term.
The Parliamentary Delegation of Georgia is headed by the First Deputy Chairperson, Ms. Tamar Chugoshvili. The Delegation is composed of: Sofio Katsarava, Eka Beselia, Zviad Kvachantiradze, Nino Goguadze, Irina Pruidze, Dimitri Tskitishvili, Giorgi Kandelaki and Gela Mikadze.