TBILISI, DFWatch – Free Democrats leader Irakli Alasania asks the government to put the the latest constitutional change to the people in a referendum, calling it an illegal decision.

The process is already in motion to change the constitution and increase the number of members of parliament from 150 to 190. But most of the opposition and commentators consider the whole initiative illegal, because the number of MPs was decided by a referendum, and therefore it may only be changed by another referendum.

While making the statement yesterday at a rally outside the parliament building in Tbilisi, Alasania described the planned constitutional change as ‘the sole decision of Mikheil Saakashvili’.

“This is an amendment which is not needed for the Georgian population,” the Free Democrats leader said.

“This is a decision which will increase the number of the MPs by adding 40 extra, whose names are unknown to the voters even in their own regions.”

According to Alasania, the decision runs counter to the what the people decided in 2003, when as a result of a referendum they supported decreasing the number of MPs to 150. He called for the government to change the outcome of a referendum by holding another referendum.

The decision to increase the number of MPs was made in July by the government and a part of the opposition which signed on to an agreement about electoral reform.

According to this agreement, the number of MPs will be 190, 83 of which are to be chosen through what’s known as the majoritarian system, meaning from single-mandate districts, while 107 will be chosen on the basis of a system of proportionality. Following recommendations from international organizations, all single-mandate districts with more than 100 000 eligible voters should be divided, and accordingly, there will be set up 10 extra single-mandate districts.

This caused discontent among a number of experts and that part of the opposition which was not part of the agreement.

Their main argument was that number of MPs was set by a referendum last time around. They claim that it can only be changed through another referendum, because according to Georgian legislation, a decision made through a referendum can only be changed by holding another referendum.

But the government claims that the number of MPs was not decided by a referendum last time.

They claim this by arguing that whereas the decision was made in a 2003 referendum, it was only enforced two years later, in 2005. However, there exists stenographic records showing both President Saakashvili and representatives for the National Movement saying that when making the change in 2005 it was an implementation of the referendum result.

The government’s argument is not shared by experts and a large part of the opposition. But the government has already made its decision and has moved the process forward to the stage dealing with how to incorporate it into the constitution. An appropriate constitutional amendment was presented to parliament on November 11, in the name of 83 MPs.

It was decided to set up a commission which will facilitate a public discussion during a one month period, following the constitution’s rules for how to change its text. This means that the procedure to review the constitution has already begun, and it is therefore unclear what impact Alasania’s demand will have at such a late stage.