On 5 October 2015, on air on Rustavi 2, the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili, discussed the package of constitutional amendments which envisage a reform of the electoral system. Mr Margvelashvili stated: "The Parliamentary Majority made a decision and started to collect signatures for constitutional amendments. This decision was just the Majority’s own version of what is more just and how the system should be organised. I immediately made a statement and appealed to them to have this issue discussed within the organ which was specifically created for this purpose. By the way, it was created by this Parliamentary Majority itself. This organ is the Constitutional Commission. However, for some reasons which I cannot understand, the Majority decided to circumvent the Constitutional Commission, established by the very Parliamentary Majority, and, instead, it was the Parliament of Georgia which elaborated the constitutional bill."FactCheck
verified the accuracy of the President's statement.
On 27 December 2013, the Parliament of Georgia endorsed the composition of the Constitutional Commission which is chaired by the Speaker of the Parliament, Davit Usupashvili, and put the Commission in charge of the preparation of a project of constitutional amendments. The 58-member Commission includes representatives of the Government of Georgia, political parties, NGOs and the expert community. Davit Usupashvili commented upon the establishment of the Commission: "We have to adopt this constitution based upon real consensus and this will make these constitutional amendments truly universal and popular."
One of the most important tasks of the Constitutional Commission was to have been a reform of the electoral system. Both opposition parties and different NGOs have called upon the Government of Georgia multiple times to change the electoral system before the 2016 parliamentary election. Mostly, the bulk of the appeals were about the abolition of the majoritarian electoral system.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in its resolution, The Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Georgia, urged all political forces to agree upon an election system that can count upon a broad consensus and strengthens the pluralism of the country’s political institutions. In this respect, the Assembly invited all stakeholders to consider the proportional-regional election system, based upon open lists, which seems to have the agreement of most, if not all, political forces in the country.A fundamental reform of the electoral system and, specifically, the abolition of the majoritarian system was one of the Georgian Dream’s election promises. FactCheck has already written
about this topic.
In December 2014, Speaker of the Parliament and Chair of the Constitutional Commission, Davit Usupashvili, also stated that it was very difficult to find a model similar to Georgia’s majoritarian constituencies throughout the world and this had often been a subject of criticism by Council of Europe monitors. Mr Usupashvili added: "We are often asked what we are going to do – are we going to change the system or make the majoritarian districts equal? This question has to be answered very soon and it is not a matter of interest only for foreigners. In the first place, it is a matter of interest for Georgia’s political spectrum and electorate."
In spite of the aforementioned, on 6 June 2015, it was announced that the Government of Georgia refused to abolish the existing mixed electoral system and postponed the reform until 2020. Therefore, the Government of Georgia plans to have both proportional and majoritarian electoral systems for the 2016 parliamentary election. NGOs have once again appealed to the Government of Georgia to requesta transition from the mixed electoral system to the proportional electoral system by 2016 parliamentary election time.
In response to this appeal, on 3 September 2015, 81 MPs from the Georgian Dream coalition registered a constitutional bill at the Parliament of Georgia. The bill envisages a refusal of a fundamental reform of the electoral system at the present moment and postpones it until 2020.FactCheck
’s research demonstrated that the project of constitutional amendments registered on 3 September 2015 at the Parliament of Georgia was indeed not considered by the Constitutional Commission. A member of the Parliamentary Majority, Vakhtang Khmaladze, named the absence of a quorum in the Constitutional Commission’s working group as the reason. Therefore, he asserted that the Parliamentary Majority had to put the package of constitutional amendments directly before the Parliament of Georgia. Mr Khmaladze is referring to the Group on the Issues of the Parliament, President and Government, which he personally chairs, and which is one of the five working groups established within the framework of the Constitutional Commission. Of note is that this group met only four times and has not had a single session since12 May 2014. Of particular mention is that the Parliament’s new electoral system has not been a topic of discussion for any of the four sessions of the aforementioned working group.FactCheck
contacted one of the leaders of New Rights, Mamuka Katsitadze. Mr Katsitadze stated that the Constitutional Commission had only two sessions in the last two years and he called on Vakhtang Khmaladze to publicise the list of those members who were present at the working group meetings. In this way, the identity of those group members whose lack of attendance resulted in the absence of a quorum will become public.
The former Chair of New Rights and the incumbent Political Adviser to the President of Georgia, Pikria Chikhradze, also put the responsibility for the inactivity of the Constitutional Commission upon the ruling team. Ms Chikhradze stated: "Why do we need a Constitutional Commission and why does it have its mandate prolonged if the most fundamental issues will be submitted to the Parliament of Georgia without the Commission’s involvement? I ask this question of the whole Government of Georgia and the Speaker of the Parliament, specifically, who is the chair of the Constitutional Commission and, unfortunately, has been personally ignoring and undermining the Constitutional Commission all this time."
It is a shared position of both the Parliamentary and non-Parliamentary opposition, together with NGOs and international organisations, that the electoral system needs to be fundamentally changed and that the majoritarian system should be abolished by the 2016 parliamentary election. The joint appeal, drafted by 14 political parties and eight NGOs, was addressed to the Parliament of Georgia.
The aforementioned stakeholders have their own representatives in the Constitutional Commission. The Georgian Dream has 13 MPs in the Constitutional Commission which has 58 members in total. Therefore, under these conditions, the Parliamentary Majority would have been unable to secure the endorsement of the Constitutional Commission for the constitutional amendments with these amendments eventually having been submitted to the Parliament of Georgia by the Georgian Dream MPs themselves. Thus, the Parliamentary Majority, circumventing the Constitutional Commission, drafted the package of constitutional amendments which was desirable for itself whilst the Constitutional Commission, which was established by the Parliament of Georgia and meant to make the constitutional amendments "universal and popular," was left outside of the processes.Therefore, FactCheck concludes that the President’s statement is TRUE.