Charles Michel’s visit to Tbilisi and the prospect of overcoming the political crisis
President of European Council Charles Michel arrived in Tbilisi on 28 February. Charles Michel met with President Salome Zurabishvili in the morning of March 1. During the briefing, Michel spoke about the importance of democracy in Georgia, the resolution of the political crisis, the need for the independence of the judiciary on the road to the EU and assistance to Georgia in the fight against Covid 19. The President of the European Council also visited the occupation line and reaffirmed his support for Georgia’s territorial integrity. On the same day, Charles Michel held a meeting with representatives of the opposition. They talked about holding a re-election plebiscite as a compromise on their part to defuse the political crisis in the country. Addressing a press conference with Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on March 1, Charles Michel said “political polarization must end” and “it is time to move from political facilitation to a political mediation.” He offered the parties to hold a meeting. The Prime Minister of Georgia, reaffirmed his readiness for dialogue and agreed to meet with the opposition.
The meeting, mediated by the President of the European Council, took place at Orbeliani Palace. Representatives of the parliamentary parties and the Prime Minister of Georgia attended the two-hour meeting. The parties agreed on a framework document consisting of 6 points, which includes issues of electoral reform, judicial reform, politically motivated justice and the possible appointment of new elections. President Michel said the EU would monitor progress on this “difficult issue” at another meeting of the Association Council in Brussels in two weeks. Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili said the meeting was held in a “constructive atmosphere” and the parties agreed to “continue the dialogue.” Davit Bakradze, the chairman of European Georgia, said that the parties agreed on a “framework” of issues to be discussed and that all issues. The issues include “the release of political prisoners, early elections, electoral and judicial reform, which are important for the normalization of the political crisis in Georgia.”
Following the visit of Charles Michel, the opposition decided to change the forms of protest, as the March 3 parliamentary picket rally was followed by arrests and criticism from the authorities. Tina Bokuchava, one of the leaders of the United National Movement, told the media that the protests were being modified in such a way that they would prevent clashes between police and protesters and illegal detentions such as the ones which occurred the day before.
The Electoral System Reform Working Group presented the draft amendments
Shalva Papuashvili and Levan Ioseliani, co-chairs of the parliamentary group working on electoral reform in Georgia, registered a package of amendments to the Electoral Code to the legislature on March 2.
The draft amendments envisage introducing the following changes to the Georgian election code:
- Electronic voter registration and ballot counting will be introduced.
- Public gatherings within 100 meters of the polling stations, as well as keeping voter records, will be banned.
- The election administrations will be staffed with 8 independent and 9 party members (one member per party) at both the central and district level.
- In Tbilisi, Rustavi, Kutaisi, Poti and Batumi Municipal Assemblies (Sakrebulo) there will be four proportionally elected members per one majoritarian. In the remaining municipalities, there will be two proportionally elected members per one majoritarian.
- Precinct election commissions will no longer be allowed to draw up an amendment protocol after the ballots are sealed.
- District election commissions will no longer be allowed to draw up an amendment protocol without opening the documentation and recounting the ballot papers.
- The deadlines for filing and reviewing complaints will be extended.
- It will be possible to file an appeal electronically.
- It will be possible to appeal in court should the Central Election Commission refuse to draw up a violation report.
- Five precincts each out of the 73 election districts will be recounted randomly, meaning that a total of 365 precincts will be recounted after the elections – 10% of the total.
- The categories of public servants who are prohibited from participating in pre-election agitation will be expanded.
- Gathering or using public servants for pre-election agitation will be prohibited.
Freedom House Report: Georgia is on the list of partially free countries and has 60 points out of 100
According to a Freedom House report by the international human rights organization Freedom House 2021, Georgia remains a partially free country with 60 out of 100 points. Georgia’s rating is a maximum of 40 to 23 points in the area of political rights and 37/60 in the area of civil liberties. The report states that “oligarchic influence harms the country’s political affairs, political decisions and media environment, while politicization undermines the rule of law. “Civil liberties are inconsistently protected.” Mikheil Sarjveladze, the chairman of the Human Rights Committee, was critical, saying that there were several factual inconsistencies in the Freedom House report, claiming that the summary was based on biased information.