TBILISI, DFWatch – The government has secretly sent a bill to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission which seems to block Bidzina Ivanishvili’s last option for using his wealth to build an opposition movement.

Private companies and organizations are prohibited from financing political parties. Individuals will have the right to give a maximum of sixty thousand Georgian lari per year. Membership fees can’t exceed 1200 lari per year. The annual income of a party, including state financing, can not exceed 0.2% of Georgia’s gross domestic product (GDP). Any amount received more than that should be paid to the state. In order to receive government financing, a preliminary application will be necessary.

A Georgian citizen with over 15% income from a simplified state procurement of an enterprise he has  shares in can’t be a donor to a political party.

Party membership fees and donations from citizens can only be transferred by non-cash money. The Chamber of Control will do the financial reporting of the party, instead of the Central Election Commission (CEC).

The amendment will be made to the Law on Political Unions of Citizens.

In the current legislation there are no such restrictions and prohibitions. The only comparable restriction is the maximum limit for the individuals and companies on donations to a party. According to the current law, the limit for individuals is 30 000 lari, and for legal persons it is 100 000 lari.

This limit is however doubled in a proposal that was sent to the Venice Commission in August, following an agreement between the government and parts of the opposition.

When there is yet another new regulation surfacing, this is unpopular among the non-governmental sector and political parties.

Pavle Kublashvili, chairman of Parliament’s Judiciary Committee and head of the editorial group working on electoral issues, confirms that the new bill is sent to the Venice Commission, and says that there is nothing strange in this.

“It’s really sent, but the proposal has become the subject for discussions for a long time. A number of meetings have been held in the Ministry of Justice regarding this project. Accordingly, the non-governmental sector is familiar with the text of this proposal. There are still discussions on a number of particular issues, and we think that we should know the Venice Commission’s position on these issues,”  Pavle Kublashvili says.

According to him, the Venice Commission’s conclusion regarding the project will be published along with the conclusion about changes to the Electoral Code, and only after that will it be introduced in parliament.

The Venice commission will publish its conclusion about the Electoral Code on December 16 or 17, according to chairman Tomas Markert.

Georgian businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili is prohibited from engaging in political activities in the country after the president revoked his citizenship. He can not set up a political party, become a member of a party or finance a political party. But according to the current legislation, he has a right to finance a party through his companies, or what in legal language is called ‘legal entities’ or ‘legal persons’. This option will however also be closed for him, should the latest changes be adopted.

The non-governmental sector links these changes to Ivanishvili’s entrance into politics, because the latest changes were not included in the proposal until after Ivanishvili declared he would enter politics, although there was a discussion last summer to have such new limitations on party financing, according to chairman Nina Khatiskatsi in Transparency International Georgia.

“The government was instructed already in summer to prepare appropriate legislative changes. I mean the part, which is reflected in our and international organizations’ recommendations. Despite this, the bill was prepared, but the recommendations had not still been reflected there. The acceleration makes us think that it can be connected with the latest events,” Khatiskatsi says.

Even non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that support the government think the aim of the government’s decision is to hamper Ivanishvili’s entrance into politics.

A few days ago the press-office of the parliamentary majority announced a meeting with NGO representatives in European House. The discussion was about problems surrounding party financing, and Zura Japaridze, chairman of the NGO Strategy and Development Institute presented changes in the name of his organization.

He didn’t hide the fact that the initiative to further rein in party financing comes as a result of Ivanishvili’s appearance on the political scene.

“It’s a step forward that it is possible to prohibit the legal entity financing, establish limits on donations which a political union can receive; but it is not believable for the government to agree on the prohibition on legal entities donating,” Zura Japaridze says.

“We think that a new player on the political game-field, whose property is equal to the country’s GDP it creates a danger that the process is not conducted according to international norms, but by buying votes. And this problem is particularly acute considering the difficult social background in the country,” Japaridze says, adding that the ‘current legislative changes may be good, but cannot guarantee to avoid all danger.’

The part of the opposition which signed on to an agreement about election reform and a big part of the non-governmental sector consider the government’s latest move a political game.

“The main thing is that in this case the government did the wrong thing again, because firstly, they have made changes in this agreement which they haven’t even mentioned to us. Now they have sent the proposal, without conducting any consultations,” Levan Vepkhvadze, member of the editorial group and representative of the Christian Democratic party says.

“There are many issues that were neither in ours or international organizations’ recommendations. We, NGOs weren’t involved in this, but there were two meetings in the Ministry of Justice, where we were verbally notified that such a thing was being planned. But we weren’t familiar with the project and no-one saw the project sent to the Venice Commission,” Tamar Chugoshvili, chairman of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association says.

“The main thing is that the way the bill was prepared is unacceptable. As you know, work on the election code was going on for months. Then there was made an agreement between the government and part of opposition, which formed the basis for preparing the proposal for the Electoral Code. But the proposal reflected many issues which there had not been any agreement about, there had not even been a discussion about them. This process raises many questions,” she adds.