TBILISI, DFWatch – Lawmakers in Georgia have temporarily given EU citizens political rights in the country for the next three years. The rights will expire on January 1, 2014.
The constitutional amendment is widely seen as a measure to allow opposition billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili to take part in the elections for parliament and president this year and next, but Ivanishvili himself indicates that he might not qualify.
The reason is that the law requires an EU citizen, which Ivanishvili is, to have lived in Georgia for the last ten years. The ruling party believes that he has, but the businessman himself says he returned in 2004 part time and from 2005 has lived her full time.
There are two kinds of election rights for citizens of EU member states: either passive or active election right, provided that they have lived in Georgia for the last ten years.
The constitutional amendment was carried by 112 votes to zero. Some members of parliamentary from the opposition verbally took exception to the amendments. The changes are now in force.
It is clear that the bill foresees granting election rights to Saakashvili’s main competitor Bidzina Ivanishvili, and without him having benefit of full-fledged rights as a Georgian citizen. The passage of this amendment has not been simple and it is still being discussed. Even the wording of the amendment was changed several times before its final adoption.
The amendment now reads as follows. “Until January 1, together with Georgian citizens persons with appropriate age, who were born and have lived in Georgia for latest ten years and have EU member state citizenship will have right to participate and vote in Parliament and President Elections.”
The new standard effectively permits Ivanishvili to participate in the parliament elections in October 2012, as well as the presidential elections in 2013. However, in spite of the new legislation, the enforcement of the term for the transitional law means that he will not be able to participate in the next local elections in 2014, especially if his Georgian citizenship is not restored by that time.
Previously, Georgian legislation did not grant non-citizens active and passive election and voting rights.
“We should end all speculations as if anybody in Georgia is being restricted from participating in elections or any political activism,” Pavle Kublashvili, head of Parliament’s Judiciary Committee said Wednesday.
The Christian Democrats, who are credited with initiating the first draft of the proposed constitutional amendments, consider the ten year residency requirement an unjust barrier, and demand that this be reduced to three years, as was considered in the first draft.
Giorgi Targamadze, leader of the Christian Democrats says that his faction supported the issue on the first hearing because it was their idea. However, he added that the ten-year rule is unacceptable for them and on the second hearing they will put forth their alternative proposal, which anticipates a three year residency requirement in order to be granted election rights.
Today, Bidzina Ivanishvili responded to this issue, saying that he hasn’t been living in Georgia fulltime over a period of ten years. “I returned to Georgia in 2004 to live and since 2005 I have been paying taxes as a resident.” He is negative to the constitutional amendments and said that no normal country, one respecting its own laws and people allows for such a precedent of foreign citizens having the right of political life in the country.
No-one from the government has yet denied that the changes are tailor-made for Ivanishvili’s case. “Based on available information at this time, Ivanishvili has been living Georgia since 2001. Regardless, some suspicions remain over this issue, and the topic must be clarified during the second hearing of the bill,” Pavle Kublashvili told news agency Pirweli today.