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Georgian presidential election law may be changed

Ruling party wants presidential election through popular vote abolished by 2023

The presidential election in 2018 may end up being the last time Georgians get to choose their president directly, if the parliament’s constitutional commission approves the related constitutional reform bill after it has looked into it later in April.

The bill, proposed by advocate of limited government Vakhtang Khmaladze on March 16, puts the power to elect president to the 150 members of the Georgian parliament and 150 delegates (representatives of regional governments, as well as of the supreme councils of Ajara and Abkhazia).

The ruling Georgian Dream party has spoken in support of the bill. There’s nothing wrong about indirect presidential elections, first deputy chairperson of the parliament Tamar Chugoshvili said.

The country’s cabinet of ministers seems to be all for the idea, too. Minister for refugees Sozar Subari said Georgia should finally have a presidential election law that befits its status as a parliamentary republic.

The proposed change does not sit well with the opposition, though. “It’s a violation of the Georgian people’s rights, this taking away of their power to choose their own president,” said Salome Samadashvili of the National Movement’s parliamentary faction.

NGOs have not approved of it either, saying election by popular vote is more democratic and calling on the constitutional commission to at least postpone the change until after the 2023 presidential election, rather than after the next one due in 2018.

The current president’ administration won’t make any accommodations at all. Be it in 2018, 2023 or ever after that, Georgian citizens must keep their right to choose their president themselves, head of the administration Giorgi Abashishvili said. Ordinary members of public should be able to have their say on the proposed change and other constitution-related issues, which is why president Giorgi Margvelashvili has started his ‘Constitution belongs to all’ campaign, he added.

The campaign kicked off on March 13, three days after president Giorgi Margvelashvili announced it at a special meeting with representatives of the diplomatic corps, NGOs, experts and members of various political parties.

Interestingly, no one from the Georgian Dream showed up to hear the president talk. Some of its representatives said later they had had to attend a parliamentary sitting scheduled for the same time as the meeting in the presidential palace.

Margvelashvili stressed that his campaign was not to be seen as an alternative to the constitutional commission, a body that does not comprise any person who would act on behalf of the presidential administration.

The commission did have two seats allocated for president’s representatives when it was first set up late last year, however they boycotted it after the ruling party snubbed Margvelashvili’s plan for the commission to be co-chaired by himself, prime minister and parliament speaker.

 

The 73-member constitutional commission was put together on December 15, 2016 and is chaired by speaker of the parliament Irakli Kobakhidze. It is divided into four thematic groups:

– Group for human rights, justice, constitutional preamble, general and transitional clauses of the Constitution;
– Group for parliament issues, finances and control;
– Group for issues related to president, government and defense;
– Group for issues related to territorial management and administration, and local government.

The commission’s conclusions are expected to come through late in April.


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