Loading

On 9 September, at a meeting with members of the local population in Kakheti, presidential candidate Giorgi Margvelashvili stated: “We have never stepped into cohabitation with them [the United National Movement]. Throughout these nine years, God forbid, not a single minute have I been in any cohabitation with them and I say this with pride.”

FactCheck

inquired about the accuracy of this statement.

Firstly, we would like to remind the reader what the political state labelled as cohabitation actually represents.

This term is derived from the French la cohabitation and takes its roots from the French Fifth Republic. Cohabitation suggests a form of governance in which a president and his team represent one political force while a prime minister and his team constitute a force opposing it. The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines cohabitation

in politics as the state of affairs in which a head of state serves with an antagonistic parliamentary majority. Cohabitation in governance is caused by the fact that the party of the president does not hold the majority in the parliament and the president has no other option but to suggest such an individual for the position of prime minister who would be acceptable to the majority. The prime minister, on his part, forms a government and tangibly limits the president’s influence.

The state of affairs present in France following the National Assembly elections of 1986 is considered to be the first example of cohabitation. In 1981 Socialist François Mitterrand was elected as the President of the French Republic. In that period a right-wing coalition held a majority in the main legislative body of France – the National Assembly. Mitterrand held new elections of the National Assembly which resulted in the Socialists gaining majority. In 1986, however, a right-wing political force came into the majority again. Mitterrand maintained the position of President and precisely at this point cohabitation (1986-88) started in France. Jacques Chirac was appointed as the Prime Minister. Afterwards President Mitterrand focused mainly on foreign politics while Chirac took control of internal politics.

Apart from this period, France offers two other examples of cohabitation in the government:  in the years 1993-1995, when, similar to the previous case, right-wing forces yet again gained parliamentary majority while the position of Prime Minister was filled by Eduard Balladur; and another case, in the years 1997-2002, when Socialists won in the early parliamentary elections, this time held by President Chirac, while Lionel Jospin was appointed as Prime Minister. Chirac’s influence was significantly restricted by this fact whereas the Socialists started implementing their political agenda. They managed, for instance, to reduce the amount of working hours in a week from 39 to 35.

Apart from France, cohabitation has been experienced in other countries as well. It is a fairly common occurrence, for example, in Finland after the new constitution was adopted in 2000. The new constitution limited the president’s power and defined the prime minister to be elected by the parliament. Cohabitation is currently present in the government of Romania where President Traian Băsescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta signed a cohabitation agreement at the end of 2012 for the sake of resolving the government crisis. Cohabitation occurred in the government of Ukraine in the years 2006-2010 after President Viktor Yushchenko appointed Viktor Yanukovych as Prime Minister.

The present political state and structure of Georgia is quite similar to the cases mentioned above. In the elections of October 2012 the Parliamentary Majority was gained by the coalition of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream, a political force antagonistic to the President. President Saakashvili had no other option but to nominate Ivanishvili as the coalition’s leader for the position of prime minister. After being appointed Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili formed the Cabinet of Ministers after which cohabitation was established in the country in which current presidential candidate Giorgi Margvelashvili was a participant in the years 2012-2013. In particular, starting from 25 October 2012 to 18 July 2013, Margvelashvili occupied the position of Georgia’s Minister of Education. At the same time Margvelashvili was the Vice Prime Minister of Georgia.

Apart from the definition of the term and parallels drawn to the cases of different countries, the existence of cohabitation in Georgia is confirmed by various concrete facts. A clear manifestation of cohabitation, for instance, was the process of working on Georgia’s foreign policy document in the Parliament and its approval. As we remember, President Saakashvili and the United National Movement requested the pro-Western orientation of the country be defined on the legislative level. Following this request the Georgian Dream coalition worked out an inter-faction document which was sent to different factions of the Parliament for discussion. The concord on the final draft of this document and, most importantly, the working process itself represent an undisputed manifestation of cohabitation in the government. Other examples of cohabitation are the meetings held between the President and the Prime Minister on constitutional amendments as well as the meetings of the Chairman of the Parliament with the President or with the Leader of the Parliamentary Minority and so forth. Therefore, bearing in mind the definition of cohabitation discussed above, Margvelashvili, as a member of the governing party, at the time, and a representative of the Cabinet of Ministers formed by the Prime Minister as well as Minister of Education and Vice Prime Minister, was undoubtedly a part of the cohabitation process in the government and, therefore, took part in it.

Cohabitation, as an undisputed fact, manifested itself most clearly in March and September of the current year when both political forces concurrently supported the constitutional amendments. The first case was witnessed on 25 March when the Parliament approved amendments to three articles of the Constitution on the third hearing with 135 votes for and none against. In particular, according to the amendments introduced, before the Parliament declares its confidence to a new government, the dismissed (or resigned) government will continue performing its duties. The President was stripped of his authority to form a new government notwithstanding the resistance of the Parliament. It is to be noted that prior to voting for the restriction of the President’s rights, a test vote was held upon the request of the United National Movement which showed that the governing coalition was not able to gather a constitutional majority exclusively with its own forces. Following the test vote, however, the Parliamentary Minority supported the amendments which, once again, proved the importance of cohabitation for the country in terms of solving specific issues. A second case was observed on 20 September when, on the first hearing, the Parliament adopted constitutional amendments which increased the role of the Parliament in the country unanimously, with 112 votes in support. In particular, according to the approved draft law, along with various changes, the Parliament retained a leverage of declaring its confidence to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet in the case of one-third of the government members being replaced. Keeping this regulation in force means that the Prime Minister will no longer have the authority to change the whole composition of the government without the approval of the Parliament.

The Ministry of Education and Science, in particular, was also involved in the process of cohabitation while Giorgi Margvelashvili served as the Minister. The information supporting this fact can be obtained from the website of the Ministry itself. Let us reflect upon the United National Exams Organisational Staff

established in the Ministry of Education and Science by Giorgi Margvelashvili himself which aimed to ensure a high quality organisation of the national examinations and whose member, along with other bodies, was the President’s administration. The Ministry of Education and Science and, thus, the Minister himself, collaborated with the President’s administration on various specific matters as a part of the Organisational Staff. One of the members of this Staff was Tbilisi City Hall, headed by Gigi Ugulava, one of the leaders of the United National Movement. Apart from this particular case, the Ministry’s co-operation and relationship with the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Science and Culture, which includes members of the United National Movement as well, can also be considered to represent an example of cohabitation. For instance, during Margvelashvili’s service as the Minister, the last example of collaboration with the Committee took place on 11 July of the current year, one week prior to his being nominated as the presidential candidate, when Tamar Sanikidze attended the Committee sitting for the first hearing of various draft laws. The deputies of the United National Movement also took part in the discussion on the abovementioned sitting. Also, shortly after being appointed as the Minister, Giorgi Margvelashvili personally attended the Committee sitting in Tbilisi where submitted proposals of reforms in fields of higher education and science were being discussed.

We would also like to highlight the context of the statement made by the presidential candidate which considers cohabitation to be a negative occurrence in itself. Cohabitation, by its nature, suggests coexistence. It describes a system in which two political forces of divergent opinions or even ideologies are present in the government and strive to work in the country’s interests which obviously represents the major objective of any government. Cohabitation, as a fairly complicated structure and a political phenomenon, is associated with certain risks but, naturally, these risks are especially pronounced if the process is conducted unfavourably. To put this into different words, cohabitation does not constitute a negative occurrence by itself but an unsuccessful cohabitation, due to the lack of political will, can lead to harmful consequences.

The same is confirmed by multiple appeals of international organisations or high-rank foreign politicians addressed to the Georgian government and the opposition which specifically call for cohabitation and peaceful and effective coexistence. Many examples of such appeals can be found in the period of the last 11 months. For instance, there is the statement made by Anders Fogh Rasmussen in June of 2013, during the North Atlantic Council’s visit to Georgia, in which the NATO Chief called upon the Prime Minister of Georgia to “Make political cohabitation work.” There is also the statement made by European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton who called for Georgia's President and Prime Minister to co-operate more closely in the interest of the Georgian people. The same pathos is instilled in the article “Georgian Politicians Urged to Enhance Cohabitation” published on the official website of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. The relevance of cohabitation for our country is also emphasised in the statement

of Foreign Minister Linas Antanas Linkevičius of Lithuania, currently the EU president state, noting that he expects peaceful cohabitation from the President and the Prime Minister.

Similar appeals have been voiced upon multiple occasions in interviews to different TV channels or TV coverage. For example:

James Appathurai:

 “First of all, I would like to see cohabitation; we want to see that all the members of society are in agreement with regard to the major issues... NATO wants to see cohabitation.” (Maestro TV, News 21:00, 3 June 2013).

Catherine Ashton:  “We talked about finding the most favourable way and in every language it is called cohabitation” (Public Broadcaster, Moambe 20:00, 26

November 2012).

Thomas Melia:  “The United States is monitoring the transitional process and cohabitation so that the process is carried out in the most favourable way for the people.” (TV Kavkasia, Dges 20:30, 12

December 2012).

Štefan Füle:  “We focused on the matters of collaboration and cohabitation between the new and the old governments. This is a very important issue which will have its impact on the Vilnius Summit results.” (Imedi, Kronika 09:00, 13

February 2013).

There are numerous other statements and appeals of this kind made by foreign politicians and listing them all would lead us too far afield. Even putting these statements aside and solely considering the nature and definition of cohabitation, we can assuredly declare that it is incorrect to discuss cohabitation only in the negative context taking it to be a negative occurrence in itself.

It can be deduced from the statements of members of the leading party that the importance of cohabitation for the future democratic development of the country has been well recognised by the Georgian Dream coalition itself. This fact has been specifically emphasised by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili in his speech to the Council of Europe on 23 April 2013:  “I believe that cohabitation, which is a new word for Georgians, has become a regular matter now. We manage to coexist. I, as well as my team, wish the position and opposition to stand together. As our country has many problems, we have no time for discussing our private matters. We should manage to move our country forward.” The Prime Minister highlighted the importance of these issues upon his return from the Council of Europe as well: “My utmost desire is for the position and opposition to stand together.”

Similar statements have been voiced by other leaders of the Georgian Dream coalition as well. Davit Usupashvili, for example, made statements of a similar nature on multiple occasions:  “We strive to achieve true cohabitation.” (Rustavi 2 TV, Kurieri 21:00, 14

February 2013) and “Presidential elections are of great importance here as well as Vilnius Summit results. Equally important is to continue cohabitation and to carry out the presidential elections normally.”

Conclusion

We have not discussed the part of Giorgi Margvelashvili’s statement where he declares that throughout the last nine years he has not been involved in the cohabitation process with the United National Movement. The reason for this is obvious because Giorgi Margvelashvili could not have been involved in cohabitation with the United National Movement for nine years as the cohabitation process started in our country only 11 months ago. Apart from this, Margvelashvili has not been serving on any political position over these nine years and, thus, could not have been a part of any form of political governance. Clearly, this statement of the presidential candidate has solely an emotional context and intends to strengthen the negative connotation attached to the term cohabitation.

As for the other part of his statement, our research has revealed that cohabitation by nature represents a political state of affairs when a government is divided between two antagonistic parties; that is, the president and his team on one side and the prime minister with his followers on the other. Giorgi Margvelashvili, as one of the most important and active members of the Georgian Dream coalition, who has been occupying some of the highest political positions in the period between October 2012 and July 2013, surely took part together with the Georgian Dream Coalition  in the cohabitation process. Consequently, his statements claiming that we [Georgian Dream] have not taken part in cohabitation are undoubtedly false. Cohabitation is a fact and does not depend upon the sympathies, views or desires of any specific individuals.

FactCheck

also took note of the negative context in which cohabitation has been mentioned and demonstrated in its research that despite its complicated political character, cohabitation does not represent a negative occurrence in itself. On the contrary, only unsuccessful cohabitation brings about negative consequences. The same is verified by the appeals of the high-rank politicians of our partner organisations and countries stating that Georgia should enhance cohabitation. Accordingly, this pathos of the presidential candidate is largely misleading as well.

Bearing in mind all of the abovementioned we conclude that the statement of presidential candidate Giorgi Margvelashvili, “We have never stepped into cohabitation with them [the United National Movement]. Throughout these nine years, God forbid, not a single minute have I been in cohabitation with them and I say this with pride,” is a LIE.