Several controversial amendments were pushed through the Georgian parliament on September 26. Despite unrelenting opposition, they were incorporated into the country’s constitution during its third and final reading. These amendments will reduce the power of the president and modify electoral rules, thereby moving the country further away from its history of communism and closer to a parliamentary system. Members of the opposition, supported by the president, sharply criticized the amendments and left the meeting before the vote took place on September 28.
Georgia is a currently a republic led by Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili. President Giorgi Margvelashvili is limited to serving as commander-in-chief and head of state. Seventy-three members of parliament (MPs) are directly elected and 77 are apportioned by lists of candidates submitted by the political parties. The center-left Georgia Dream Party and the opposition center-right United National Movement (UNM) are the two largest parties, and both strongly support integrating Georgia into Western institutions like NATO and the EU. However, the disagreement over the new amendments highlight the divisions between the two.
If the changes survive a presidential veto and parliamentary override, the country will transition to a fully proportional parliament by 2024. The amendments phase-out presidential direct elections and replace them with an electoral college. Most controversially, final implementation of the changes will not happen until the 2024 election. The 2020 election will be a hybrid of the old and the new systems.
Nika Melia of the UNM asserted that the amendments will create “a dictatorial and clan-based constitution.” Ada Marshania of the Alliance of Patriots, another group in opposition, added that the amendments were “a legalization of one-party dictatorship….This is not the constitution of Georgia, this is the constitution of Georgian Dream.” The Georgia Dream Party ignored the opposition, and Irakli Kobakhidze, a Georgia Dream MP and president of parliament, deemed the new constitution a “European-type constitution based on national interests.”