Opposition parties holding a joint briefing after the October 31 elections. (On.ge)

TBILISI, DFWatch–Facing growing criticism from the West, Georgian Dream seems to soften its strict stance towards the opposition.

Although parliament on Wednesday adopted a bill at the first reading that strips all opposition parties of their state funding, GD said it would send the controversial bill for review either to the Venice Commission, a Council of Europe body, or ODIHR, an OSCE institution.

“Although both legally and politically everything is absolutely fine […] I suggest the following, let’s wait a few weeks and send this package either to the Venice Commission or to ODIHR. Wait for their position until the second reading, i.e. suspend the discussion of the bills until the end of January, wait for the position of the Venice Commission or the OSCE/ODIHR or both, and then resume the discussion of the bills for the second reading,” GD executive secretary Irakli Kobakhidze told parliament.

The second bill which may be sent for legal review concerns revoking the registration to a political party which is led by a non-resident individual. This would effectively block the country’s largest opposition party, the  United National Movement from participating in politics.

This is because UNM is headed by ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was stripped of his Georgian citizenship after the 2012 elections. After that year’s election, UNM conceded power to GD and he himself fled the country, fearing prosecution. Under the current government several criminal cases have been launched against Saakashvili and he is currently wanted by Georgian courts.

The second bill is supposed to be adopted a few months later, during parliament’s spring session.

The opposition claims the rationale behind these bills is to punish them for boycotting the newly elected parliament. 

The bills have triggered a wave of criticism from Western politicians as well. 

“EPP is deeply concerned by the recent legislative initiative of the ruling party of Georgia, directed against the biggest opposition party that is supported by one third of the Georgian population,” says a statement released by European People’s Party on Wednesday.

“We urge Georgia to continue moving towards declared EU values, and instead of restricting the democratic right of the opposition to return to constructive dialogue, to find a compromise solution which would benefit all Georgian citizens,” says EPP via twitter.

The bill, which was adopted at the first reading on Wednesday, includes the cessation of state funding for the eight opposition parties, which is in many cases their main source of income. In addition, MPs who permanently miss parliamentary sessions will not be able to receive their salary or other benefits.

The bill also deprives the opposition parties of free airtime on Georgian private television stations, which has traditionally been very important in the parties’ advertising campaigns.

After the October 31 election, which was assessed as satisfactory by international observers, all eight opposition parties which passed the one percent threshold refused to accept the results, complaining of mass rigging and demanded to hold another election. Otherwise, they threatened to boycott the parliament.

After weeks of unsuccessful negotiations facilitated by US and EU diplomats, most opposition parties have annulled their party lists and officially renounced their mandates. The first sitting of parliament was attended by only GD MPs with nobody from the opposition flank present.