There is rising confusion after President Saakashvili said that the first parliamentary session in Kutaisi will be on the next national day, May 26, 2012. He said this two days ago at the opening of a new House of Justice in the city. But according to the Georgian constitution, parliament can only convene in Kutaisi after the results of the next parliamentary elections have been announced. Those elections are slated for October 2012.
The parliamentary majority has a different interpretation of the president’s speech. But constitutionalists claim there are clear indications that a May session would be in breach of the law.
When it was decided to move parliament to Kutaisi, the decision was highly criticized, and analysts had different explanations for why the president did it. But the decision is already made, and what is important now is how it will be accomplished.
A previous draft of the constitution gave both Tbilisi and Kutaisi as location of parliament. If it had not been altered, this statement by the president would not have caused such turmoil.
The thing is that a few months ago this was changed. The constitution now states that location of the future parliament is Kutaisi. Therefore, parliament’s sessions can only be held there. The timing of the move is also stated.
The third chapter of the Constitution, which was changed this time last year, is dedicated to the parliament’s operational rules, parliament’s rights and duties. “Parliament’s location is the town of Kutaisi”, this chapter states. “This will be enforced the day the after the final report about the results of the next general parliamentary election is published by the Central Election Commission.”
This means that the location of parliament is Tbilisi until the results of the next election are published. Holding sessions in some other place would be in breach of the Georgian constitution.
Zakaria Kutsnashvili, chairman of the NGO Law for People thinks the President’s announcement is unclear and claims that this can’t happen without violating the Georgian constitution.
“The law specifies the location of holding parliament’s sessions. And we are talking about the country’s main laws: the Constitution and Parliament’s Procedural Rules. But the word ‘Parliament’ is often taken to mean its subunits, like a parliamentary bureau, a committee and committee meetings. But changing place for parliamentary session is against the constitution, except for in an emergency situation or war,” Kutsnashvili says.
That is why Levan Vepkhvadze from the parliamentary opposition is asking the government to do some explaining.
“How can parliament be transferred to Kutaisi? According to the current edition of the constitution it can only happen after the election. This means that holding a parliamentary session in Kutaisi on May 26 may only happen if there is a special election, or else it’s a violation of the constitution. Or we have to change the constitution. You must ask them, which of these three ways will the ruling party choose. It must be one of this three,” Vepkhvadze says.
Parliament’s administration is not offering any explanation. The ruling party’s position is that such a meeting would be merely symbolic and therefore not violate any laws.
“On May 26, 2012, the current parliament will hold a symbolic session. The president did not mean holding special elections,” Akaki Bobokhidze, from the majority National Movement party explains.
According to him, on this day parliament will hold a symbolic session in the new parliament building in Kutaisi. Then the relay stick will be passed on to a new parliament in the fall.
But the constitution does have clauses that allow for holding sessions in a different location. “Changing the location of a temporary replacement session may be changed only in an emergency situation or war,” the third chapter of the constitution says.
It is clear that a “symbolic Session” does not fit the definition of emergency situation or war. Therefore, the president’s announcement causes misunderstandings. Zakaria Kutsnashvili explains that holding any parliament session in some other place before the election results are announced will cause a violation of the constitution.
After the president’s announcement caused a stir, the chairman of Parliament’s Justice Committee analyzed the situation and announced that what will take be taking place on May 26, 2012, will merely be the formal opening of the new parliament building.
“First of all, everyone must forget the idea that there will be special election or something like that. The date of the elections is defined by the constitution, and it is October of 2012. There will be no elections before that. Secondly, transferring the parliament and its functioning to Kutaisi will begin only after the elections. And I’ll repeat, so that our political opponents won’t misunderstand, that it is the period after the elections in October 2012.”
“As for what will happen on May 26, 2012, the parliament building will be completed and I think today’s parliament really deserve a the new building, considering the condition of today’s parliament building. But it does not mean that the parliament will make some decisions there, or hold a session, or voting. It will be a presentation, an opening ceremony. The new parliament will officially begin functioning after the October 2012 elections,“ Pavle Kublashvili, chairman of Parliament’s Justice Committee said.
The president however did say that parliament would hold a session, and not an opening ceremony. That’s why Zakaria Kutsnashvili defines the Symbolic opening as “buffoonery and joking”. According to him, the law defines the location of sessions and it is obligatory to follow the law.
“The law defines when parliament must be in Kutaisi, and if the meeting happens before this time, it is a violation. But there is not defined any responsibility for such a case. Because parliament is a collective body and the law does not give any definition about a person’s responsibility if parliament violates the law. As it seems, the government benefits from this fact and now they have conceived their next PR move. Or the president said something and now the ruling party tries to justify what he said. But didn’t they change this law themselves? Haven’t they written in it that the meetings must be held in Kutaisi?” Kutsnashvili asks.