Tempers flare over number of MPs

by | Dec 6, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch – Two opposition blocs exchanged obscenities in parliament Tuesday over what to do about a controversial bill to increase the number of members of parliament (MPs).

Georgia’s parliamentary majority is ready to reconsider the decision to increasing the number of MPs. This was decided Tuesday after a verbal confrontation with the opposition in parliament.

The debate saw heated exchange between Christian Democrat faction leader Levan Vepkhvadze and Tamaz Diasamidze, representative of the faction Unity for Justice.

The Christian Democrats are among the signatories of an agreement between the government and part of the opposition in July, 2011, regarding electoral reform.

Signing on to this meant that they agreed on a number of issues about how to change the Electoral Code. But these changes are unacceptable to the rest of the opposition and a number of non-governmental organizations.

The disputed issues include increasing the number of MPs. Because it is the constitution which sets the number of MPs, it is necessary to implement constitutional amendments in order to enforce the changes.

An appropriate bill is already introduced in parliament with the required MP signatories. According to Georgian legislation, a bill to amend the constitutional can be initiated by either the president, half of the MPs or 200 000 voters. After it has been initiated a special commission to accommodate public discussion is set up which should provide for public discussion about the proposal for a month and present remarks and recommendations expressed during these discussions to parliament. The parliamentary review of the amendments will begin only after this process.

Today the number of MPs is defined as 150 persons, 75 of which are chosen by something called a majoritarian system, 75 through a system of proportionality. According to the bill, the number of MPs will increase to 190; 83 of which will be chosen by the majoritarian system, 107 through the proportional system.

Currently, the process is in the stage of public discussion, but the opposition and a significant section of commentators categorically object to this issue, because the number of MPs was reduced in 2005 as a result of a referendum held in 2003. According to Georgian legislation, a decision made by a referendum can only be changed by holding another referendum.

The government tries to justify this decision by the fact that changing the number of MP did not happen thorugh a referendum. The opposition and many experts do not share this view.

This is the background for today’s confrontation between Levan Vepkhvadze and Tamaz Diasamidze. Their argument became unusually heated and included exchanges of obscenities.

Afterwards, Levan Vepkhvadze sugested to halt the review of constitutional changes altogether.

He said that both the opposition and the government are acting dishonestly towards this initiative. The government tries to place responsibility for increasing the number of MPs to a specific part of the opposition, because everybody knows that this is a unpopular topic and unacceptable to parts of society.

Vepkhvadze remarks that the section of the opposition which signed on to the constitutional changes considers that having a political consensus should be more important than the public interest, because tomorrow and after tomorrow the public interest will be better protected.

Levan Vepkhvadze discussed the importance of multiparty democracy and said that if the constitutional changes are implemented and the number of MPs increased to 190, “the small parties like Jondi [Bagaturia]’s and [Gia] Tsagareishvilis would have an opportunity to get into the parliament together with the other bigger parties.”

“It seems they didn’t want this. Ok, let’s leave it as it is – a 150 person parliament,” Vepkhvadze said, insisting that he had been demanding within the format of ‘The Eight’ to increase the number of MPs, but the others ‘didn’t have enough strength’ to express their opposition publicly and now they criticize the political power, “they will come and will request.”

Before the negotiations about election reform began, eight opposition parties were putting forth demands together in a bloc called The Eight. It included the New Rightists and Christian Democrats, which were the only ones that later signed an agreement with the government.

After Vepkhvadze’s speech, David Bakradze, parliament’s speaker, said that reviewing the decision about the number of MPs achieved via consensus should happen again via consensus.

Bakradze said that everybody remembers that the decision of increasing the number MPs is a result of the very long-term consensus process. According to him, if the parties no longer want this agreement, no one can force them. But if this decision will be reconsidered, Bakradze said, it should happen based on another agreement.

“A decision made when emotions are running high during a political debates shouldn’t become the grounds for reconsidering,” parliament’s speaker said and called for both the majority and the minority not to revise the agreement as a result of statements made in a heated emotional moment.

As for the format of reviewing the agreement, Bakradze said this is fully depended on the parties.

The parliamentary majority is ready to review the decision of increasing the number of MPs, Petre Tsiskarishvili, leader of the parliamentary majority says.

According to him, the Christian Democrats called the government unscrupulous, but unscrupulousness is the Christian Democrats blaming the government, while the government agreed on their initiative to increase the MP numbers only as a form of compromise.

Tsiskarishvili named multiparty political pluralism and supporting the well functioning of the opposition as an argument to the compromise.

“Is this nonfulfillment of the promise, Levan? Was this what you were calling unscrupulous? Unscrupulousness is what you are saying,” Tsiskarishvili said, and remarked that the opposition is now ashamed to admit that increasing the number of MPs was their own desire.

Tsiskarishvili expressed readiness to review the decision regarding this issue.

“We will discuss this issue and make a decision,” he added.




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