Georgian opposition to return to parliament with amnesty for political prisoners on top of agenda
Opposition returns to parliament, June 20 amnesty
Opposition MPs in Georgia will begin work in parliament on April 27, 2021 and the first step will be to register a bill on amnesty for all participants in the June 20, 2019 events in Tbilisi.
On the same day, President Salome Zurabishvili will pardon Giorgi Rurua, co-founder of the opposition TV channel Mtavari.
Thus, the implementation of one of the points of the agreement on overcoming the political crisis, which the opposition and the authorities signed on April 19 through the mediation of the President of the European Council, will begin.
Georgia has been in a state of acute political crisis since the fall of 2020, when the opposition claimed the parliamentary elections had been rigged and withdrew its seats in parliament.
On June 20, 2019, police brutally dispersed thousands of protests in Tbilisi using rubber bullets and tear gas. Several criminal cases were initiated on these events, including against activists. The release of one of the opposition leaders, Nika Melia, who was arrested in this case, was the main demand of the opposition during negotiations with the authorities. The opposition also considers him a political prisoner and demands the release of Rurua, who was convicted in July 2020 for the illegal acquisition and carrying of firearms.
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The announcement of the start of work in parliament on the amnesty bill came after a series of meetings in Tbilisi with European Council President Charles Michel and a meeting on the evening of April 20, which was attended by Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili and representatives of the government and opposition.
“We will pass the amnesty law as soon as possible,” Salome Samadashvili, a spokeswoman for the opposition United National Movement party, told reporters.
Ruling party official Shalva Papuashvili also confirmed the start of work on a bill on amnesty. “There are no political prisoners in Georgia. Melia puts his dignity above the interests of the country, but he will still receive amnesty, since the ruling party considers the state and the Motherland to be more significant than Nika Melia.”
The decision to grant amnesty to all cases related to the June 20 protests was harshly commented on by Mako Gomuri, who lost her eye that day after being shot at with a rubber bullet.
“In my thoughts everything was confused, if you were in my place, you would feel sorry for me. Who is telling the truth, who is lying? So the [police] guilty of crimes that night will go unpunished? Do you think this is real justice? I don’t know. But I understand that I do not want this.
When making decisions, no one asked either my opinion or the opinion of Koba [the second victim in the June 20, 2019 protests, who also lost an eye]. And no one was asked at all. Were these such unimportant events? I need an exact answer,” Mako Gomuri wrote on social media.
The story of Mako Gomuri, who lost her eye from a rubber bullet during a protest in Tbilisi on June 20, 2019
On April 18, President of the European Council Charles Michel presented to the Georgian political parties a new package of proposals to overcome the protracted political crisis, which was signed the next day by the ruling party and part of the opposition.
The document is called “The Future Path for Georgia” and differs in a number of important details from the previous document, which was proposed on March 31 by the representative of the President of the European Council Christian Danielson. In particular, the new document proposed a different approach on two points that were most contested by the opposition and the authorities in the country: the release of political prisoners and early parliamentary elections.
From among the opposition, the document was signed by:
“Lelo” [Badri Japaridze and Mamuka Khazaradze]
“Agmashenebeli’s Strategy” [Giorgi Vashadze]
Republican Party [Khatuna Samnidze]
“Girchi” [Vakhtang Megrelishvili]
“Citizens” [Aleko Elisashvili]
Salome Samadashvili, David Bakradze, Zurab Japaridze, Grigol Vashadze.
Five points of the compromise
1. Politicized justice
One of the main points, which the opposition insisted on, is that the two arrested opposition leaders Nika Melia and Giorgi Rurua are innocent and must be released. Their names are not directly mentioned in the document. However, it is said that “in the interests of political stability in Georgia” the parties who signed the document must “respond to two cases that are perceived as politicized justice” within a week.
The condition necessary for the entry into force of this provision is that all who sign the document must return to work in parliament.
Terms: Within a week after signing the document.
2. Ambitious electoral reform
● The next parliamentary elections will be fully proportional (according to party lists). The threshold for the next two elections will be two percent. A group from one party of at least four MPs will be able to form a parliamentary faction, which may include MPs from other parties.
● Local government elections scheduled for autumn 2021 will be held according to the following system. In five large cities (Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Rustavi, Zugdidi), seats will be distributed between proportional and majority mandates according to the 4/1 principle. Elsewhere in the country, this proportion will be 2/1. In Tbilisi, the electoral threshold will be 2.5 percent, in all other places – three percent.
● The chairman of the Central Election Commission will be elected by 2/3 of the votes of the deputies of parliament. The deputy chairman of the CEC must be a representative of the opposition party. Changes were also proposed to the rules for recruiting the CEC, district and precinct commissions.
Timeline: Discussion of the electoral bill should be resumed as soon as opposition MPs start working in parliament.
Within two weeks after the signing of the agreement, the bill should reflect all the changes that are recorded in Michel’s document. This updated document should then be sent to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and its conclusions obtained.
Parliament must pass these changes before the fall local elections.
3. Rule of law / judicial reform
The ambitious judicial reform must be adopted within the current parliamentary term, as a result of widespread cooperation between the government and the opposition.
Among the main points are a change in the rule for the appointment of judges of the Supreme Court and an in-depth reform of the High Council of Justice.
The changes will affect the Prosecutor General’s Office as well. In particular, the appointment of the next Attorney General must be approved by a qualified majority of MPs.
The document also contains several important technical details regarding the appointment of the attorney general.
Timeline: Discussion of these issues begins as soon as opposition parties enter parliament. The prepared draft amendments must be sent to the Venice Commission by July 1 for conclusion. The first vote will take place in parliament during the fall session of 2021. Parliament must approve these changes no later than the spring 2022 session.
4. Distribution of power in parliament
Opposition representatives are to chair five parliamentary committees.
Opposition MPs will lead parliamentary delegations representing Georgia in important international forums, in particular in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Timeline: The process of redistributing powers in parliament should begin within a week after signing, so that the changes take effect immediately after the convening of the autumn session of 2021.
5. The decision on early parliamentary elections will depend on the results of local elections
Early parliamentary elections in Georgia will be announced if the ruling Georgian Dream party receives less than 43 percent of the proportional votes in local elections in the fall of 2021.
The parties should take into account the OSCE / ODIHR assessment, which assessed the October 31 parliamentary elections as “held in a competitive environment and, in general, respecting fundamental freedoms. However, widespread accusations of pressure on voters must also be recognized; blurring the boundaries between the ruling party and the state; refusal to consider most complaints on a formal basis ”.
The parties acknowledge that they assess the 2020 elections differently and agree to start working in parliament, as well as to participate in the upcoming elections on the basis of the electoral reform agreed above, in the interests of political stability in Georgia and in order to implement this agreement.