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Georgian Political Drama: President's Impeachment Battle Threatens EU Aspirations and Constitutional Clarity

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, October 9, 2023
The impeachment process of President Salome Zurabishvili has become the main topic of Georgian politics and is widely discussed in the media and political spectrum. However, there are more unanswered questions and assumptions about this issue than there are convincing answers.

One thing that can be clearly said is that the impeachment process temporarily overshadowed other topics, for example, Partskhaladze, sanctioned by the US, who was also accused of cooperating with Russian intelligence.

At first, this information was followed by a big stir in the media, and it was also discussed that the Russian agency in the current government of Georgia would not end there. The issue of impeachment of the president overshadowed the other steps of the Georgian Dream today, first of all, the amendments to the law 'On Manifestations' adopted by the parliament in an accelerated manner in the first reading, which, according to the opposition, significantly restrict freedom of expression and were called "the second Russian law".

The impeachment process of the president clearly showed the flaws in the Constitution. The subject of consideration in the Constitutional Court was the violation by the President of Georgia of Article 52, Clause 'A' of the Constitution, according to which the President of Georgia can exercise representative authority in foreign relations and negotiate with other states and international organizations only with the approval of the government.

In response, the president's representatives claim in court that Salome Zurabishvili did not exercise her authority based on Article 52 during her visits and was guided by Articles 49 and 78 of the Constitution. The first of these stipulates that the President of Georgia represents Georgia in foreign relations, and the second directly obliges the constitutional bodies to promote the European integration process.

The open conflict between the Georgian Dream and President Salome Zurabishvili began on August 30, when Zurabishvili started her foreign visits to support Georgia's EU membership candidate status. It also turned out that the government, that is, Prime Minister Gharibashvili, will forbid him from making all the planned visits until the end of 2023.

The current dispute in the Constitutional Court would not have started if it were clearly written in the Constitution of Georgia that the President needs the approval of the government in case of signing any agreement.

Salome Zurabishvili, unlike the Georgian Dream government, today clearly embodies Georgia's aspiration towards the European Union, and her impeachment attempt is perceived negatively in the West. The impeachment process that has begun may prevent Georgia from being granted the status of a candidate for EU membership. According to the opposition, the Georgian Dream started the impeachment process precisely for this reason, to create an additional problem on the path of European integration.

They also point out that if they thought the president's visits were illegal, they could not escalate the issue so much and apply to the Constitutional Court not for impeachment, but for a clear explanation of the competencies of the government and the president in the disputed matter. The plan of the Georgian Dream in case of "successful completion" of the impeachment of the President is also being actively discussed. According to the current version of the constitution, Salome Zurabishvili is the last president elected by the people, and her term of office ends in 2024.

The next president should be chosen by a special 300-member collegium - 150 parliamentarians and 150 local self-government representatives. Today it is difficult to say what will be the composition of the future parliament. In case of the impeachment of the president, the existing parliament will have to elect a new president, where the Georgian Dream dominates, and the dominance of the national party in the regions is even higher. In other words, the election of the president becomes an "internal affair" of the ruling party. At first, there was a version that Irakli Kobakhidze was being prepared as the new president instead of Zurabishvili, but it was soon overshadowed by a new version, according to which Bidzina Ivanishvili himself is going to be the president, who will enjoy high security if he receives the status of the president, although some consider Ivanishvili's "third turn" in politics suspicious.

6 out of 9 members of the Constitutional Court must support the impeachment of the President. As noted, the Constitutional Court is actually staffed by the Georgian Dream and it should not be difficult for the ruling party to make the desired decision from this body. After that, the process returns to the parliament. The leaders of the Georgian Dream say that they do not have the 100 votes necessary for the impeachment of the president, and they need 12 more votes to reach this figure.

The representatives of the pro-Western opposition parties in the parliament say that they will not support the impeachment of Zurabishvili. The largest opposition party United National Movement is not going to enter the parliament during the voting at all, in order to exclude any doubts about the actions of its members. Nevertheless, there is a version that the Georgian Dream in the opposition, as a result of behind-the-scenes negotiations, mainly with 'independent' MPs, has obtained the necessary votes and will achieve the impeachment of Zurabishvili in the parliament.

In which scenario the events will develop, the nearest future will show. It is also noted that in case of any outcome of the impeachment epic of the president, the current ruling party will significantly damage its image, and President Zurabishvili will become an important political figure who embodies the Western orientation of the country. He could, if he wanted to, become the leader of any pre-election union.