TBILISI, DFWatch – Lawmakers in the Georgian capital seem to have changed a law after it was signed by the president and entered into the formal record.
The law raised a chorus of objections from activists who said it violated the constitution and international conventions. Now it appears that the offending paragraph of the law has been changed – as if by magic.
The changes relate to the law about political associations of citizens, and the version signed by the president contained retroactive powers, but this clause has been changed a few hours after its publishing.
The changes significantly tightened the rules on campaign financing. A number of restrictions were established, which applies not only to party members, but their family members and people directly or in-directly connected with them.
In addition, there was written in the law that these restrictions would have retroactive power, which violates the Georgian constitution and international law.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) appealed to the president to use his veto powers to stop the law, but the president did not follow their pleas and the law was enforced on December 28 and published on a special website called Matsne – with the retroactive powers.
It would have had grave consequences for the four political partners of a Georgian billionaire turned politicial: The Free Democrats, the Republican Party, the Conservative Party and the People’s Party, which would have had to return the money they received from Bidzina Ivanishvili in the last two months, totaling 1.1 million lari.
A statement from the US embassy yesterday criticized the law’s retroactive powers. Then the government explained that the changes of the law about political associations of citizens do not have any reverse power and none of the political unions will be punished if they received donations through a legal way before.
But the parliamentary majority accuses the non-governmental sector and other political parties of incorrectly interpreting the law. They claim that the political parties misled the US embassy and that they didn’t recheck the information with the law sources.
After the parliamentary majority made this statement the law which was published on the official website ‘Matsne’ was changed.
Parliament made changes to the law about the political associations of citizen on December 28. It was published on the official website Matsne at noon on December 29. In the first half of the day the document said that “political associations of citizens and political subjects defined by article 26/1 of this law foreseen by article one, paragraph 6, which have received financing in violation of this law’s regulations and haven’t spent the money at the moment of enforcing this law, are obliged to return the money to the one who granted it not later than three days after enforcing the law. In case of not fulfilling this obligation the money will become state property.”
In the second half of the day, at the same time as the ruling party held a press conference the text of the law was changed on the website and was formulated this way: ‘political associations of citizens and political subjects defined by article 26/1 of this law foreseen by article one, paragraph 6, which have received financing in violation of this law’s requirements and haven’t spent the money at the moment of enforcing this law, are obliged to return the money to the one who granted it not later than three days after enforcing the law. In case of not fulfilling this obligation the money will become state property.”
According to lawyer Alexander Baramidze, the significant change is that the first version said political groups must return funds if they had received those funds “in violation of the regulations of this law”. In the second version, the word “this” has apparently disappeared from the text, so what it now says is just “in violation of law”. This means that the regulations of this law no longer can be applied retroactively, Baramidze writes in a Facebook comment here on DFWatch.net.
Irakli Chikovani, member of the Free Democrats, one of Ivanishvili’s political partners, responded to the changes on the website Matsne. He tells DF Watch that it’s an attempt by the government to correct their reckless behavior.
“This is a fact of abusing powers and governmental extremism,” Chikovani said, adding that the government not only changed the content of the document, but the date of its publishing.
Specifically, the legislative changes were published on December 29, which means that was when it came into force too, but on Matsne the date of publishing is indicated as December 28.
Baramidze ascribes the magic change to civil protest and the US embassy’s critical statement.
“This is a good news. It means that reasonable protest makes sense and that the government still has to listen to someone,” Baramidze wrote.