|Officials say the proposed draft law over Adjara’s
constitutional powers will forever prevent separatism
attempts in the region.
In the wake of a landslide victory in Adjara’s local elections, Georgia’s central government further increased its control over the Autonomous Republic after the Parliament approved a controversial law over Adjara’s powers in its first hearing on June 25.
Opponents described the document, which reaffirms Adjara’s autonomous status, as “a legalization of the direct presidential rule” over the region.
“This draft law is absolutely unacceptable; Adjara’s autonomous rights are even less than those of the lowest level of self-governance bodies. Elementary principles—the distribution of powers between the central government and the region are violated in by law,” MP Davit Gamkrelidze, the leader of the opposition New Rights parliamentary faction, told Civil Georgia. The New Rights were among those who voted against the proposal, which was approved by a 173 to 9 vote.
Tina Khidasheli, a legal expert and chief of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), says that the proposed draft “significantly downgrades Adjara’s autonomous rights.” She was a member of the commission, set up by the authorities to propose recommendations for the improvement of the document. Representatives of the Parliament, as well as independent legal experts were also represented in the commission.
The government claims that the increased rights of the central authorities are dictated by “the current political realities in Adjara.”
“This law will prevent Georgia from disintegrating. So nobody will have a desire to re-introduce the regime which existed during [deposed Adjarian leader] Aslan Abashidze’s governance,” Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili said on June 25 while presenting the document to lawmakers.
According to the document, the President, who proposes candidacy for the Adjarian Prime Minister’s position, can disband the Supreme Council – the local legislative body, as well as the entire cabinet. On the other hand, the Adjarian Prime Minister will be able to veto decisions made by the Supreme Council.
Adjara will have one chamber--a 30-member legislative body, the Supreme Council-- consisting of 18 MPs elected through proportional party lists and 12 MPs elected in single-mandate constituencies. Adjara already elected a Supreme Council during the June 20 local elections. As a result, President Saakashvili’s Victorious Adjara will occupy 28 seats, while his opponent’s Republican Party gained only two mandates.
The Georgian Parliament will have the right to suspend legislative acts passed by the Adjarian Supreme Council.
The Council of Europe’s expert body on constitutional affairs, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (known as the Venice Commission), discussed a draft concerning constitutional law in regards to the distribution of powers between Tbilisi and Batumi on June 18-19. The commission recommended that the Georgian government amend some of the provisions in the draft, mainly the ones related to the central government’s increased authority over the region.
However, as Davit Gamkrelidze of the New Rights parliamentary factions says, “almost none of the of the Venice Commission’s recommendations were taken into account.”
The Republican Party also opposes the draft law. It is anticipated that the controversy over the proposed document will further increase the gap between the Republicans and the ruling National Movement-Democrats party, which until the June 20 local elections in Adjara were a close allies.
“The draft law is absolutely unacceptable from political or moral points of view and expresses the central government’s mistrust of the Adjarian population, since we deprive them the right of self-governance. The authorities are simply cheating the population as it [this document] is a direct [presidential] rule and has nothing in common with the autonomous status [of Adjara],” said MP Ivliane Khaindrava, of the Republican Party, during the parliamentary session on June 25.
Adjara will, however, retain the right to manage its finances. Under the draft law, “the Adjara Autonomous Republic will itself earmark the revenues received from taxes and dues imposed by the region.”
“Adjara’s autonomy has no political, religious or ethnic ground. Now is the right time to address this issue and cancel Adjara’s autonomy, but only if the local population will say so,” MP Zviad Dzidziguri says.
These demands over lifting Adjara’s autonomy were condemned by President Saakashvili’s administration, who claimed that it would be “a negative sign” for Abkhazia and South Ossetia – Georgia’s two breakaway regions.
However, MP Davit Gamkrelidze told Civil Georgia that imposing on Adjara “a nominal autonomy,” which is a direct presidential rule and in reality, according to the MP, is an even worse sign for both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”