Georgia has new constitution but CSOs remain concerned over threats to democracy
On 19th September 2017, the official meeting of the Open Government Partnership’s (OGP) Steering Committee took place at the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly. During the meeting, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili assumed the OGP chairmanship, together with Mukelani Dimba (Executive Director of the Open Democracy Advice Center).
Georgia’s new constitution keeps real change in check | openDemocracy https://t.co/CwAkfFfI8V— Jørn Holm-Hansen (@JornHolmHansen) October 19, 2017
New Georgian constitution
On 25th September 2017, the Georgian parliament voted on new constitutional amendments. Previously, in May 2017 Georgian civil society had expressed concern over some of the amendments that could potentially threaten democratic institutions, namely attempts to create the electoral conditions for one-party rule in the country. Civil society was involved from the beginning in the debates and discussions, including the drafting process of the new constitution. Last-minutes changes, however, overlooked and ignored international partners' and civil society's recommendations and concerns.
In September 2017, when the new constitution was adopted with 117 votes, opposition parties walked out of parliament in protest. Civil society and independent experts expressed their disagreement with the new constitutional provisions in the public space, but more widespread protests, such as those held in May, have not yet been organised.
Several Georgian NGOs have thus far sent a letter to the U.S. government expressing their concerns over a number of threats to democracy. According to the NGOs, the state failed ”to seek and achieve broad public and political consensus over the draft of the [constitution]”. Other important issues mentioned in the letter include: threats to the independence of the judiciary and failure of the authorities to continue to implement reforms; lack of accountability within the law enforcement bodies and security services; and a worsening media environment marked by attempts to reduce pluralism in the informational space.
On 15th October 2017, the opposition political party - United National Movement (UNM) - organised a second protest over Tbilisi city council's decision to give a plot of land to a construction company connected to billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder of the Georgian Dream party and former Prime-minister. UNM had been excluded from the council's debates over how to manage the plot of land. The first protest took place on 10th October, during which eight UNM activists were detained when police and protesters clashed.
ICYMI: Leyla Mustafayeva's open letter to the Georgian authorities on the abduction of her husband, Afgan Mukhtarli. https://t.co/Uykl0Hu9ML— oDR (@opendemocracyru) October 19, 2017
Afgan Mukhtarli – still in detention
Four months after being abducted in Georgia, Azeri investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli remains in the hands of the authorities in Azerbaijan. International media organisations have called for his release, but without any success. According to Reporters without Borders (RSF), his health has deteriorated, though the authorities have denied this.
RSF has demanded that the Georgian authorities investigate how it was possible to orchestrate the kidnapping on Georgian territory, stating:
"Afgan Mukhtarli’s detention is a disgrace for both Azerbaijan and Georgia... . Not only is no one able to explain how it began, but now it is being extended in defiance of the most elementary humanitarian principles”.
On 12th October 2017, Radio Free Europe reported that Leyla Mustafayeva, wife of Afgan Mukhtarli, left Tbilisi for Germany, stating that she did not feel safe in Georgia.