Thursday

24th Jan 2019

Opinion

Constitutional reform aligns Georgia with Europe

  • Georgia's new parliament building, constructed in 2012, is actually in Kutaisi, rather than the capital, Tbilisi (Photo: Georgia Parliament)

The backbone of Georgian democracy, its constitution, was adopted in 1995 during the early days after Georgia regained its independence.

Not surprisingly, today it needs important changes to catch up with and support the achievements of comprehensive reforms to Georgia's governance in the last two decades.

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The proposed constitutional adjustment will create a European parliamentary democracy. It will strengthen parliament and delineate the responsibilities assigned to the various branches of government clearly.

Some 26 years ago, when Georgia embarked on the path toward European and Euro-Atlantic integration, the future was mostly unknowns. Undeterred, we adopted a wide array of deep and effective reforms that have consolidated democracy while lifting standards and quality of governance and the rule of law.

Georgia has never been closer to European standards and to the EU than today, and we continue our hard work to become a full member of the European family.

Today, the EU is busy with its internal agenda, especially at a time when Brexit is absorbing much institutional energy, yet Georgia remains committed to this path. We look forward to the reward of our citizens' efforts with unambiguous commitments and progressive steps towards deeper political and practical integration.

Finish line in sight?

We have listened closely to our colleagues in the EU who have guided our efforts. Now we ask our European partners to put this essential element – bringing Georgia in the EU – on the path to the finish line.

Ever since independence, the major flaw of Georgia's political system has been the weakness of its legislature at the expense of the executive.

The overwhelming powers of the executive branch both weakened the balance between the two branches and co-mingled the powers and responsibilities of each. Thus, the duties of the president and the cabinet are inextricably overlapping and confused, complicating the tasks of the government.

With the anticipated constitutional changes, the parliament is intended to become a stronger voice in Georgian politics.

Proportional representation, stronger parliament

These changes will include the introduction of an exclusive proportional electoral system, which will divert any threat of a too-powerful presidency in the long term and diminish political polarisation and radicalisation.

Changes will also contribute to institutionalising party politics and enhancing political dialogue. And they will strengthen legislative oversight and instil higher standards of government integrity, independence of the courts, improved tax collection, and more effective policing.

All of this adds up to enhancing Georgia's national security.

With these changes, future presidential elections will be indirect, while the separation of powers will be made clearer.

Specifically, gaps between the president's responsibilities and legitimate powers will be eliminated.

Above all, the constitutional change will transform the legislative cornerstones of human rights to a European standard. It speaks directly to the goals of enhancing entrepreneurial freedom, freedom of communications, and access to the internet. It enshrines the citizen's right to good governance.

And especially noteworthy: for the first time since Georgia regained independence in 1991, the ruling political party is voluntarily restricting its own political powers through constitutional change.

Constitutional change in Georgia is part of the larger process. It signals Georgians' commitment to making our hard-won democracy irreversible, while sinking our democratic roots more deeply into European soil. Georgia's historic reunion with Europe beckons, brought ever closer by our common political, cultural, and security objectives.

Georgia is Europe.

Dr Irakli Kobakhidze is chairman of the parliament of Georgia

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