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President Campaigns to Engage Public in Constitution Reform
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 14 Mar.'17 / 15:40

On March 13, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili launched a campaign “Constitution Belongs to Everyone” from the city of Telavi in Kakheti.

Speaking alongside some representatives of his administration and political parties, he said that the constitution had previously been revised many times, but the process was held behind the closed doors “in the interests of one particular political force.” Margvelashvili pledged to launch “a new tradition” for “jointly planning the framework law, according to which we would all live.”

The campaign comes as the 73-member constitutional reform commission works to revise country’s main law. It is supposed to offer its recommendations by April 30, 2017. The Commission was set up in December 2016 at the initiative of the ruling Georgian Dream - Democratic Georgia (GDDG) party, which holds the majority sufficient for revising the Constitution. It is chaired by the Parliament’s Chairperson Irakli Kobakhidze and has four thematic working groups:

• on human rights, the judiciary, preamble to the constitution, general and transitional provisions of the constitution;
• on parliament, finances and control, constitutional revision;
• on President, Government, and defense issues;
• and on administrative-territorial arrangement and local self-governance issues.

According to the Commission statute, the President’s office fills three seats in the commission: Head of the President’s administration; President’s parliamentary secretary and the Secretary of the National Security Council.  But the President’s administration as well as Secretary of the National Security Council Davit Rakviashvili boycott the work of the Commission, which they regard as a tool in the hands of the ruling party to reduce presidential powers, and in particular, to suspend direct elections of the president.

While the Commission was established back in December 2016, President Margvelashvili first voiced his decision to launch the campaign in support of the Constitutional reform on March 10, at a meeting with foreign diplomats accredited in Georgia, NGO representatives, experts and leaders of various political parties. The ruling GDDG party members refused to attend citing the ongoing parliamentary session.

At that meeting, President Margvelashvili emphasized that the campaign does not represent an alternative to the Parliament’s constitutional reform commission. “I want to stress that we are not creating an alternative process, or an alternative text; we are simply assisting the ongoing process through democratic means,” Margvelashvili said. 

While most participants of the March 10 meeting with President Margvelashvili welcomed his initiative as “helpful” for common affairs, the ruling party claimed the process was “unnecessary,” Parliamentary Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze said “Georgian legislation defines how the Constitution should be revised.”

“Initially, the draft constitution should be developed and only afterwards public discussion should be launched. According to the law, the Parliament of Georgia is the initiator and organizer of this discussion. Maybe, the Georgian President guides himself by another constitution and other legislation,” Kobakhidze quipped on March 13. 

Sniping between the President and the Parliamentary Chairman escalated last week, when the constitutional commission discussed the issue of President’s election. Irakli Kobakhidze said that “in order to avoid speculations, the ruling party deems it expedient to hold direct presidential elections [in 2018] and only afterwards to move to a different system [of indirect elections].”

“Instead of dealing with in-depth revision of the Constitution, the commission focuses on making decisions about individual politicians,” President Margvelashvili responded on March 3, implying GDDG was aiming to reduce Margvelashvili’s authority.  In response, the Parliamentary Chairman said on March 4 that the President’s statement is aimed at “discrediting the commission and misleading the society.”

“If similar statements continue, we may decide not to hold direct elections next year and move to indirect elections [already in 2018],” he added.

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