Georgian gov't postpones bill cutting financing to parties refusing to enter parliament
The Georgian parliament has decided to send a bill for review to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe that would strip parties of their financing if half a party’s MPs refuse to take up their mandates.
The parliament of Georgia adopted the bill in the first reading, but will wait for a second reading until the commission has issued a judgement on the legislative act.
If the initiative comes into force, there will be no government funding for twelve opposition political parties that have refused parliamentary mandates because they believe the authorities falsified the October 31 parliamentary elections.
Government funding is an important financial resource for parties. In total, the opposition should receive around 7,500,000 lari (about $2.3 million) from the budget.
Parties would be able to use these funds to cover the costs of offices, salaries, and also be used for other party purposes, and thus the new initiative puts them in a difficult position.
According to a 2019 report by Transparency International-Georgia, in 2019, 88 percent of all revenues generated by opposition political parties came from government funding.
This means that the opposition exists almost entirely on state funding, and this new initiative, in fact, deprives the opposition of its livelihood.
The government’s argument: “If they want to boycott, let them refuse the money.”
The main argument of the authorities is that if the opposition refuses to work in parliament, then it should also refuse money:
“If the party is so disrespectful to the mandates received from its voters, in this case it should also refuse state funding,” said Irakli Kobakhidze, one of the leaders of the ruling Georgian Dream party.
The opposition disagrees with this argument. Politicians say they receive funding from the budget for support and trust from voters in the fight for the ideas they voted for, including against election fraud.
Experts assess the government’s legislative initiative as an attempt to put pressure on the opposition.
Political analyst Gia Khukhashvili says members of the Georgian Dream are trying to intimidate opposition parties by saying that they will not receive funding if they do not enter parliament.
“The statements on the termination of state funding are made with the sole purpose of finding leverage to drag someone into parliament. The goal is to seduce someone, to intimidate someone, to come to an agreement with someone,” Khukhashvili said.
In his opinion, sending the bill to the Venice Commission is a step backward from the authorities.
“They hoped that this type of blackmail would immediately work on the opposition and they would immediately rush to parliament on pain of cessation of funding. But since this did not happen, the authorities are now trying to drag out the issue and are trying to somehow ‘tame’ the opposition,” Khukhashvili said.
Khukhashvili believes the authorities are aware that they are in a difficult situation:
“Thus, the parliament will not be legitimate. The authorities are well aware of this, they are afraid of this and are trying to lure someone with such methods, ”the expert said.
The position of the US ambassador
US Ambassador Kelly Degnan is the main negotiator between the government and the opposition.
In an interview with Formula TV, she said that she did not agree with any law limiting the development of the opposition.
“I do not agree with any law restricting the development of the opposition. It also restricts access to media to provide voters with complete information. I hope this law will be revised before it is adopted.”
The ambassador says that “a one-party parliament will ultimately be a very disappointing failure.”
Opposition parties said the October 31 parliamentary elections had been rigged, resigned parliamentary mandates and were demanding early elections.
The opposition has three main demands: a change in the electoral administration, new elections and the release of political prisoners.
Despite negotiations between the government and the opposition being mediated by Western partners, the agreement failed.
The first session of the parliament of the tenth convocation, held on December 11, was the first one-party session in Georgia’s independent history.