Georgia: Fighting for new Constitution

Lasha Tughushi, "Liberal Academy Tbilisi" Foundation

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The Constitutional Commission of Georgia finished its work in April. Even though the new project mostly consists of the proposals made by the experts and civil activists, it has already triggered quite a few discussions both among the politicians and in civil society

Politics: Constitutional project by civil society, but not quite

On the pivotal last day of the Constitutional Commission’s work, the ruling majority approved a new constitutional project with the majority of votes, despite the entire political spectrum and civil society opposing it.

The new project consists of approximately 90% initiatives of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the fact that was repeated a number of times by the Chairperson of the Parliament and the Head of the State Constitutional Commission of Georgia Irakli Kobakhidze. However, the NGOs representatives and the experts that are included in the commission showed little support to the final version of the project, as an agreement has not been reached on a number of the key issues.

In particular, the system for both parliamentary and presidential elections become a stumbling point. According to the new constitutional project, the citizens will not be able to elect the President directly. The head of the government will be elected by an electoral college of 300 electors, including the MPs and the regional representatives. Such an approach is unacceptable almost for all parties in the Parliament.

Moreover, according to the various surveys, most citizens in Georgia support a popular vote election of the President. The incumbent President Margvelashvili has an extremely negative stand on the electoral-college election, which he voiced during his address to the people of Georgia. In his turn, the Chairperson of the Parliament accused the President of misleading the country’s people.

Emotions also ran high when it came to the suggested method of the Parliament electing. The Parliament consists of 150 members, with 77 seats distributed according to a proportional system of the party lists, and the remaining 73 according to the first past the post system in the single-member electoral constituencies.

According to the new constitutional project, the citizens will not be able to elect the President directly

The cancellation of the electoral blocs is among the other novelties of the project, while a 5% threshold of the valid votes still remains. This approach is justified by “the concern” for the political parties and their development, but the reality is that joining a bloc is just about the only opportunity for the small parties, that form the majority in Georgia, to surpass the high threshold. Particular protests were caused by the fact that the new project allows the transfer of all undistributed mandates to the winning party.

Various groups have been preparing the conclusions for the Venice Commission to make several changes to the project. The political debates have been so radical that truly crucial novelties made to the project have been left unnoticed by the majority of people. They included the Georgian aspirations for the Euro-Atlantic space, functional responsibilities of a social state, effective mechanisms of public trust and mistrust for the government, the right of a free access to the Internet and its use, gender rights issues etc. One month is left for the general discussion. The Parliament plans to pass the constitution project with two hearings already in June.

Economy: GDP growth

According to the National Bank report published in April, the economy growth in 2016 in Georgia made up 2,7%. The official sources state that the Georgian industry has greatly contributed to its economy growth. The main engine of the Georgian economy growth was its construction, which grew by 8,1% during the year, thus making the biggest contribution to the economic growth equal to 0,6 %. However, these numbers are much smaller against the same period in 2015 (13,5%).

The preconditions for the rapid growth of the construction last year included the implementation of the infrastructure projects, financed by the government, and some large investments in the private sector, namely, the new British Petroleum pipeline project.

Manufacturing has also made a significant contribution to the GDP growth (0,4%), having demonstrated the growth of 4,8 % against 2,4 % in 2015. The increased foreign demand in the second half of the year had a positive effect on the export, with manufacturing being at the core of it.

Foreign Policy: GermanyGeorgia friendship year

The GermanyGeorgia friendship year officially kicked off under the slogan “Future Heritage” at the Tbilisi City Council. Several days later, a similar ceremony was held in Berlin.

The important dates that speak about the relations between the countries will be commemorated under the patronage of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Georgia and Germany, namely, a 200-year anniversary of the date when the very first German people emigrated to Georgia, and a 25-year anniversary of the two countries establishing their first diplomatic ties. Moreover, 2018 will mark 100 years since Germany recognized the independence of the first Republic of Georgia.

The heads of the diplomatic missions of both countries highlighted the importance of the friendship year, and stressed upon many years of friendship and close cooperation between the two states.

In April Georgian tourists could finally use the country’s visa-free regime with the European Union. The first month of a visa-free travel to the EU for Georgian citizens overturned the previous pessimistic expectations. According to the information provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, only 26 people out of 15 thousand travelers heading to the EU were not able to cross the border.