Georgia’s elastic Constitution.

Yet another set of Constitutional amendments have been adopted by the Georgian Parliament, the latest is a series of changes to the Constitution introduced by the ruling United National Movement (UNM) since it took power in 2003. The UNM has had a quasi-total monopoly in the Georgian parliament since the events around the “Rose Revolution” in November 2003 and could push through constitutional changes without needing the support of other political forces.

Many constitutional experts agree that tailoring constitutional amendments to suit particular situations or individuals is bad practise, even if technically possible.

According to the latest amendments it is now possible for somebody to be elected to parliament at the age of 21, instead of 25 (see CEW 22 May 2012). More controversially the Constitutional package also included an amendment that would make it possible for a Georgian-born citizen of an EU-member state, who has permanently lived in Georgia in the last 5 years, to run in the October parliamentary elections and presidential election next year.

The Georgian government pushed through the amendment following international concerns raised after opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili was stripped of his Georgian citizenship because he also held French citizenship. Ivanishvili offered to renounce his French citizenship but his offer was ignored by the Georgian government. Ivanishvili has asked for his citizenship to be restored through a process of naturalisation but the government has refused. Ivanishvili has said that he will not contest the elections as a foreign citizen and condemned the way the Georgian constitution was being manipulated to serve the political expediency of the moment. In a sharp reaction to the adoption of the amendment, Ivanishvili addressed the Georgian President and asked him to veto it.

“I am not going to gain my political rights at the expense of insulting the constitution and destroying the state. Me and my team need political rights to build the state and constitutional order, not for the purposes opposite of that,” he said in a statement.

In a response the Chairman of Parliament, David Bakradze, of the UNM said that the government had created the conditions under which Ivanishvili could contest elections and that it was now up to him whether to use this opportunity or not.

Ivanishvili’s citizenship controversy threatens to overshadow forthcoming Parliamentary elections in October. The respected Georgian NGO, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) said in a statement on April 5, that the Civil Registry Agency’s decision to refuse Bidzina Ivanishvili citizenship through naturalization “is not in line with provisions of the Georgian legislation.”

The Civil Registry Agency of the Ministry of Justice said on April 4, that Ivanishvili was not eligible to obtain Georgian citizenship through naturalization process, which he was requesting since January 5; the agency said, Ivanishvili, as a French national, should instead seek regaining his Georgian passport through dual-citizenship process.

GYLA said in its statement, that one of the major differences between these two options of entering into Georgian citizenship – naturalization and dual-citizenship process, is that while pursuing naturalization procedure an applicant should no longer be a citizen of foreign country at the time of receiving Georgian passport through naturalization.

“If at the time of undergoing naturalization process, an applicant has a foreign citizenship, there should be this applicant’s declared will that in case of entering into the Georgian citizenship, he/she will renounce citizenship of any other country,” GYLA said.

Before applying for citizenship through naturalization, Ivanishvili on December 29, 2011 submitted to the French embassy in Tbilisi a request for launching procedures for renouncing his French citizenship. One of his lawyers, Shalva Tadumadze, said at the time that the move did not mean that Ivanishvili would now become a stateless person; Ivanishvili’s French citizenship would only be revoked in case of gaining the Georgian citizenship, the lawyer said.

“The Civil Registry Agency was aware about [Ivanishvili’s] willingness to renounce his French citizenship in case of gaining Georgian citizenship. Accordingly, in this particular case, the goal of the law that a person should be only a Georgian citizen after receiving Georgian citizenship through naturalization would have been achieved,” GYLA said.

GYLA also cited the January 30, 2009 presidential order number 39, and a citizenship application form to back its claim that the Civil Registry Agency’s decision was not in accordance to the law. The group said that a citizenship application form contains one line in which an applicant is required to state that in case of being granted Georgian citizenship he/she agrees to renounce citizenship of a foreign country and has to indicate that country.

GYLA says this formulation in the application form “unambiguously” shows that an applicant has the right to renounce foreign citizenship only after receiving the Georgian citizenship.

“The goal of the Georgian legislation is that after gaining Georgian citizenship through naturalization, a person should not remain a citizen of any other country. In this particular case, this goal was easily achievable – the Georgian President could have issued a decree on granting Georgian citizenship to a person, which would have been enforced not immediately (to avoid that a person would become a citizen of two countries simultaneously), but only after receiving an official document from the relevant French authorities on satisfying [Ivanishvili’s] application on renouncing French citizenship,” GYLA said.

The Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, speaking in Chicago at an event on the margins of the NATO Summit, said that by amending the constitution to allow Ivanishvili, to run in elections, the Georgian authorities have “undermined a plot to de-legitimize” the October elections.

“There was a change to the Georgian constitution where even if you are not a Georgian citizen and you are a European Union citizen you can run for anything,” he said. “Basically we undermined what was a plot to de-legitimize our elections,” Saakashvili continued, “because, I think, what the enemies of the Georgian democracy want is Georgia to… look like the country that deprives its opposition election rights or some other things,”

“How many countries allow participation of non-citizens in presidential and parliamentary elections? We do, and the reason why we do it is that we do not want anybody to undermine… the reality that Georgia is a democracy,” he said. “That’s what we basically did by this constitutional change.”

 

Source: CEW with civil.ge