New Year, New Speaker: Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia resigns
Kakha Kuchava resigned from the position of the Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia. Shalva Papuashvili will become the new Speaker of the legislative body. Kuchava’s most important achievement as speaker was raising the EU flag burnt by the mob during 5th of July events. Papuashvili is a GD hardliner, previously served as the GIZ program director. Kakha Kuchava made a statement about his decision on the 24-th of December. He added that he remains a member of the political council of Georgian Dream. He also announced that he will “lead important projects in the future”, but so far he hasn’t gone into the details. This is yet another example of the pattern in Georgian politics started by the current and previous Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, who resigned on the New Year’s eve in 2015.
Opposition chairman of the City Council in Chkhorotsku
Small municipality of Chkhorotsku in the West-Georgian region of Samegrelo is the first municipality where opposition parties were able to cooperate successfully and elected a common candidate for Council chairman. The United National Movement and Lelo supported the candidate from Giorgi Gakharia’s “For Georgia” Shota Tsurtsumia.
Tsurtsumia received the votes of 14 out of 15 opposition members, with one ballot being annulled. Georgian Dream members of the council boycotted the voting process. The Georgian Dream has 12 seats in the 27-member Chkhorotsku Council , the United National Movement and For Georgia have 7 members each, and Lelo – 1. Two previous attempts to elect the chairman on December 3-rd and 9-th had failed.
Following Tsurtsumia’s election Sozar Subari, one of the leaders of the Georgian Dream party, held a briefing at the headquarters and announced that “a coalition between the United National Movement and Gakharia’s party had officially been formed.”
Opposition representatives also made assessments: “If we do the same thing in other constituencies, of course, it will be acceptable to us, but we have nothing in common with the Georgian Dream, as well as with Mr. Gakharia’s party. What we did was to fulfil the will of the people and remove the Georgian Dream from the control of the Council,” said Bacho Dolidze, a member of the United National Movement.
Speaking to Formula TV, Kakha Kemoklidze, one of the leaders of the For Georgia party, said that they were not creating a “systemic coalition” with anyone.
In case of an agreement between the United National Movement, the “For Georgia” and “Lelo”, the opposition Council chair may be elected in Senaki, Chkhorotsku, Zugdidi, Tsalenjikha and Rustavi. In Batumi City Hall, the opposition and the Georgian Dream have an equal number of seats and snap elections are likely to be held.
The rules to appoint CEC members changed – the US Embassy criticizes the government
According to the US Embassy’s statement, “The hasty decision by Parliament to repeal the recent reform of the Central Election Commission will undermine the concerted efforts of the ruling party and the opposition to fill these critical positions on a multi-party consensus basis.”
The statement continues outlining that these actions are another unnecessary step away from the commitments made by the ruling party to the citizens and the international community, to implement OSCE/ODIHR recommendations, to cooperate with opposition parties and civil society, to strengthen Georgia’s electoral system and democratic institutions.
“In order for Georgian voters to have confidence in the election process, they must trust the impartiality, independence and qualifications of the members of the Central Election Commission. “This was the purpose of the previous consensus-based procedure agreed upon by the ruling party and the opposition until this rule was changed at the end of the process without inclusive consultation,” the statement said.
On December 17th, at the last plenary of the Autumn Session, the Parliament in an accelerated manner, in the third reading, approved the draft law on amendments to the Rules of Procedure, which changes the rules for electing the CEC Chairperson and Commission members.
The change is criticized by NGOs. International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) says the change is a violation of Charles Michel’s April 19th agreement. According to ISFED, the purpose of the changes is to speed up and facilitate the unilateral decision-making process of the ruling party.
About 300 members of the United National Movement went on hunger strike
On December 21st, the birthday of Mikheil Saakashvili, a rally was held demanding his immediate release. Nika Melia, the leader of the United National Movement, announced that the members of his party were going on a mass hunger strike to demand the release of Georgia’s third president.
Twelve tents were set up near the UNM headquarters with about 300 people on a hunger strike, including MPs, members of different city councils and activists.
According to the party, the hunger strike will continue until their demand is met and Saakashvili is released.