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President offers consultations on amended constitution

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, September 29
President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili has offered consultations with the opposition and the ruling party after the adoption of the constitutional draft with its third and final reading two days ago.

The consultations the President wishes to hold both with the opposition and the Georgian Dream representatives is seen as helping the President make a decision to veto the newly amended changes or to approve them.

The President’s spokesperson stressed when announcing the declaration of the offer that President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s disapproval of some key notes in the draft was well-known.

Spokesperson Eka Mishveladze said that the consultations will also discuss Speaker of Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze’s address to the President to veto only two notes in the constitutional draft to enable the changes come into play sooner.

The parliamentary majority stated they are ready for such consultations, but suggested their own format of meeting, involving only the President and the majority representatives.

The Speaker of Parliament stressed that he was also ready to meet with the President and discuss any and all points of contention with him.

Kobakhidze announced that if the President and the majority agreed on a separate meeting, the majority team for the consultations would be headed by majority leader Archil Talakvadze.

The Parliament chairperson highlighted that the President’s and the opposition’s meeting “had no meaning”, as the constitutional amendments have already been adopted by Parliament.

“If the President takes my address into account and vetoes only two notes in the draft, he will play a constructive role in the process,” Kobakhidze said.

The opposition parties stated they were ready to consult with the President in any format.

The ruling party initiated several changes in the constitutional draft after the draft was adopted in the legislative body.

The initiative included the abolition of a bonus system in terms of undistributed votes, referring to the sharing of votes received by the parties failing in elections between the parliamentary parties.

The current draft reads that a bigger portion of the votes must be taken by the party which receives the most votes in the parliamentary elections.

The ruling party’s current initiative reads that the votes would be fairly shared between the parliamentary parties.

The current draft also prohibits the creation of election blocs.

However, in its initiative, the ruling party permitted such blocs for the next 2020 parliamentary elections.

The ruling team claimed that the initiative was a concession to the opposition, while the opposition stressed that their main demands were moving to fully proportional elections from 2020 and not from 2024, as well as the direct election of the President by the people and not by a committee composed of delegates.

The reflection of the initiative over the blocs and undistributed votes in the adopted amendments requires a separate bill that will take time, if the President refuses to use his veto for only some parts of the constitutional changes.

Parliament adopted the constitutional amendments with its third and final reading on September 26, amid strong opposition criticism; opposition MPs even left the Parliament building in protest.

The opposition and the President, as well as a number of NGOs, believe that the constitutional amendments are not based on large-scale public consensus and the draft is a “one-party” document.

Since Parliament adopted the changes, the President must now sign the document or initiate a veto.

If the President vetoes the draft, the Parliament will either take the president’s motivated remarks into account over the draft or override the veto.

A number of NGOs and academic institutions also appeal to the President to use the veto on the part of the draft constitutional amendments that “worsen the constitutional standards for freedom of religion”.

The signatories of the appeal call on the President to send the draft constitutional amendments together with motivated notes to Parliament on the basis of the opinions of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, religious organizations, non-governmental organizations, academic organizations and lawyers, in order “to not let the worsening of the constitutional standard of freedom of religion and protection of human rights.

“Under the Georgian Constitution, freedom of conscience, belief and confession can be restricted only if it violates the rights of others, while according to the amendments, interference with freedom of religion is allowed on six grounds, including ‘state security’, ‘prevention of crime’ and ‘execution of justice’ that do not comply with international standards and cause a high risk of unlawful interference with freedom of religion," reads the appeal.

After overriding the veto, Speaker of Parliament will sign the draft and it will come into play as a law.

The previous United National Movement government changed the constitution in 2010 and the Georgian Dream party, which believed the changes were fitted to the UNM and ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s interests, initiated to amend it once again to be in full line with “highest standards.”