TBILISI, DFWatch – The Georgian parliament today passed constitutional changes meant to let opposition billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili participate in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest, decided to go into politics in October 2011, and was soon after stripped of his Georgian citizenship. This restricted him from all kinds of political activism. The amendments just passed will grant him the right to participate, and also to become president, parliament speaker or prime minister without having citizenship.
This comes while Ivanishivli’s lawyers are still engaged in a complicated legal process to get back his citizenship.
When the citizenship was revoked in October, it came soon after the businessman had published an open letter about his political plans, and the decision was taken by President Mikheil Saakashvili, who himself had granted the businessman citizenship in 2004 for special merits to the country.
When the Civil Registry gave its final answer to refuse to give Ivanishivli citizenship through naturalization, the moderate opposition Christian Democrats party suggested to make changes in the legislation to allow the businessman to be political active.
The governing National Movement party agreed with CDM’s proposal, but since then the bill has been changed several times, until it was finally passed today by 111 votes.
In the final version, the new rule says that a person who was born in Georgia, have lived in this country for the last five years and is an EU citizen will have the right to both vote and participate in parliament and president elections, but this right expires on January 1, 2014.
This means that such a person won’t be able to participate in local elections. In addition, Georgian law restricted foreign citizens from holding the positions of Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament and President; however the changes particularly say that these restrictions won’t apply on above mentioned persons.
Bidzina Ivanishvili fulfills all these conditions. Although the Christian Democrats said this is not a solution to suit one person, it is widely understood as just that, and ruling party representatives were saying that they do this to avoid provocations that someone in the country is denied political rights.
First it was said to apply a limit for living in the country with ten years. It became known that lawmakers had wrong information that Ivanishvili has been living full time in the country for the last ten years, until the businessman said the changes wouldn’t be suitable for him.
Then the law was defined in the other way, with a five year residency requirement for being granted new political rights.
Although parliament has passed the constitutional amendment, the president has to sign the change first before it will enter into force.
Later, in evening of May 22, Ivanishivli wrote an open letter to President Mikheil Saaksashvili asking not to sign the adopted changes.
He says it is clear that the president was obliged take into account a majority of the Georgian population and the international community’s common demand to give him the right to participate in elections.
“But you weren’t able to correct the mistake [revoking the citizenship, ed.] through a civilized, legal and honorable way [giving citizenship through naturalization, ed.] and now you are committing a terrible mistake.”
Ivanishvili explains that according to the changes, if a person is both an EU citizen and a Georgian citizen, he or she cannot become Prime Minister. But if the same person renounces his or her Georgian citizenship, then that person will be able to become Prime Minister.
“This kind of absurdity is unprecedented.”
The businessman asks the president not to sign the amendment, and writes that this will save the country’s prestige.
“I’m not going to compete with you in whim and I’m ready to give you one more opportunity to correct your mistake – to appeal to you for receiving double citizenship the way your political group members and officials indicate to.”
Ivanishvili further writes that if the president rejects the businessman’s appeal and signs the changes, he won’t make use of the constitutional changes and won’t participate in the parliamentary elections in early October. He will continue his political activism within the frames of legislation defined for foreign citizens living in Georgia.
“It’s better to walk on the edge of law rather then enter an anti-state and anti constitutional sphere together with you.”