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Georgia - Government

Legislative, Executive and Judicial governments are based on the principles of sharing to carry out the governance in Georgia. On October 15, 2010, the Parliament approved a number of amendments to the constitution, including provisions that shift political powers from the president to the prime minister following the 2013 presidential election. Saakashvili’s second and final term expires in January 2013. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission considered the October 15 constitutional amendments to contain “several important improvements” but criticized the no-confidence procedures as a potential source of instability due to the time frame involved in the process and a potentially cumbersome process. Civil society activists, opposition leaders, the Venice Commission, and others had urged the Parliament to extend the period of debate which would have allowed “greater public buy-in and credibility.”

The President of Georgia is the Head of State of Georgia, who leads and exercises the internal and foreign policy of the state. He/she shall ensure the unity and integrity of the country and the activity of the state bodies in accordance with the Constitution. The President of Georgia shall be the higher representative of Georgia in foreign relations. The President of Georgia shall be elected on the basis of universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot for a term of five years. The same person may be elected the President only for two consecutive terms.

On 25 March 2013 lawmakers approved changes to the Constitution that reduced President Mikheil Saakashvili’s authority and tipped the balance of power to the prime minister. The changes, which include stripping the president of the right to dismiss the government without parliamentary approval, marked a new victory for billionaire prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose Georgian Dream coalition triumphed in the October 2012 elections. The office of the president was due for an automatic downgrade later in 2013 under earlier agreed constitutional reforms, but Georgian Dream lawmakers said they did not want to run the risk of Saakashvili dismissing the government.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili reluctantly signed constitutional amendments that he had vetoed on 09 October 2017 -- including provisions that transform the country into a parliamentary system where the president is elected by lawmakers rather than directly by voters. "It is extremely difficult for me to sign this constitution," Margvelashvili said at an October 19 press conference. "However, considering the country's internal and external challenges and the fact that we should take all steps to avoid possible destabilization, I...am signing this document." Parliament approved the amendments on September 26. On October 13, lawmakers voted to ignore Margvelashvili's objections and overrode his veto.

The constitutional amendments will come into effect after the country's 2018 presidential election. Under the amended constitution, Georgia will switch to a fully proportional-election system by 2024 with a 5 percent threshold required for a party to gain parliamentary mandates. Beginning in 2025, the president will be elected by a special council of lawmakers.

The Parliament of Georgia is the supreme representative body of the country, which exercises legislative power, determine the principle directions of domestic and foreign policy, exercise control over the activity of the Government within the framework determined by the Constitution and discharge other powers.

The Parliament of Georgia consists of 100 members of the Parliament elected by a proportional system and 50 members of Parliament elected by a majority system for a term of four years on the basis of universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot. The Parliament of Georgia consists of 77 members of the Parliament elected by a proportional system and 73 members of Parliament elected by a majority system for a term of four years on the basis of universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot.

The Council of Republic consists of members elected after a proportional system. The Senate shall consist of members elected from Abkhazia, the Autonomous Republic of Adjara and other territorial units of Georgia and five members appointed by the President of Georgia.

The Government shall ensure the exercise of the executive power, the internal and foreign policy of the state in accordance with the legislation of Georgia. The Government shall be responsible before the President and the Parliament of Georgia.The Government shall be composed by the Prime Minister and the Ministers. The State Minister (the State Ministers) may be in the composition of the Government. The Prime Minister shall charge one of the members of the Government with the exercise of the responsibilities of the Vice Prime Minister. The Government and the members of the Government shall withdraw the authority before the President of Georgia.

The Head of the Government of Georgia - the Prime Minister determines the directions of the activity of the Government, organize the activity of the Government, exercise co-ordination and control over the activity of the members of the Government, submit report on the activity of the Government to the President and be responsible for the activity of the Government before the President and the Parliament of Georgia.

The judiciary is independent and exercised exclusively by courts. Judicial power is exercised by means of constitutional control, justice and other forms determined by law. Civil, Administrative and Criminal Justice is carried out by the means of General Courts of Georgia. General courts of Georgia are: regional (city) court, court of appeal, Supreme Court of Georgia. The Supreme Council of Justice of Georgia was set up to appoint and dismiss judges from/to office and for other purposes. Half of the Supreme Council of Justice of Georgia shall be composed of members elected by a self-government body of the judges of general courts of Georgia.

The Georgian state was highly centralized, except for the autonomous regions of Abkhazia and Ajara, whose precise legal statuses had not been determined by law. Those regions were subjects of special autonomies during Soviet rule, and the legacy of that influence remained. In August 2008, Russia recognized the independence of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As of August 2011, only three other countries had recognized the independence of the two territories. All other countries, including the United States, have confirmed their continuing support for Georgia’s political sovereignty and territorial integrity.

On May 24, 2005, the Parliament passed legislation to decentralize power from the central government in Tbilisi to local government authorities in the regions, although much remains to be done before meaningful decentralization is fully achieved. Elections were held on October 5, 2006 for 1,732 members of 69 local councils and seven city governments.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and the Ministry of State Security (MSS), which were combined in December 2004 to become the new Ministry of Police and Public Order, have primary responsibility for law enforcement along with the Prosecutor General's Office. In times of internal disorder, the Government may call on the Ministry of Police and Public Order or the military. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were some instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of government authority. Some members of the security forces committed a number of serious human rights abuses.

The country, with a population of approximately 4.4 million, had a market-based economy with a large agricultural sector. The gross domestic product growth during the year was 8.4 percent. Wages did not keep pace with inflation. Although corruption impacted the economy, the Government took steps to address it during the year. Pensions and state salaries were paid on time and arrears began to be retired for the first time in several years, as a result of economic reform and anticorruption programs.

The Government's human rights record remained poor; although there were improvements in some areas, serious problems remained. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) blamed two deaths in custody on physical abuse. NGOs reported that police brutality continued, and in certain areas increased. Law enforcement officers continued to torture, beat, and otherwise abuse detainees. Corruption in law enforcement agencies decreased, but remained a problem. Arbitrary arrest and detention remained problems, as did lack of accountability. The judiciary system continued to lack true independence, and the executive branch and prosecutors' offices continued to exert undue influence on judges. There were lengthy delays in trials, and prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem.

Law enforcement agencies and other government bodies occasionally interfered with citizens' right to privacy. The press generally was free; however, journalists practiced increased self-censorship. In the beginning of the year, security forces violently dispersed several peaceful rallies and placed participants in pretrial detention. While violence against religious minorities decreased, Government officials continued to tolerate discrimination and harassment against some religious minorities. Violence against women was a problem. Trafficking for the purpose of forced labor and sexual exploitation was a problem.

On 26 February 2009, Georgian political party leaders met to sign a "code of conduct" which represents the first step in forming a working group of party leaders from inside and outside of Parliament to develop an Election Legislation Working Group (ELWG) which will draft Georgia's long-awaited electoral code reforms. The code calls on the signatories to commit to a process intent on "furthering the goal of free, fair and transparent elections in Georgia in accordance with OSCE/ODIHR and Council of Europe/Venice Commission election standards." eight parties, including the ruling UNM, signed the code, and five other parties indicated they may choose to sign before a deadline of March 12.

In December 2009, Parliament passed a new electoral code, providing for the direct election of Tbilisi’s mayor for the first time and the expansion of Tbilisi’s city council, among other reforms. Municipal elections held on May 30, 2010 were evaluated by international monitors from the OSCE as marking evident progress toward meeting OSCE and Council of Europe standards for democratic elections, but with significant shortcomings remaining, including a flawed election code, the misuse of administrative resources, and lack of balanced media coverage for opposition candidates. The United National Movement won the majority of seats in each of the country’s municipal councils, including in Tbilisi, and its candidate was elected mayor of the capital.

In preparation for 2012 parliamentary elections, parliament adopted a new electoral code on 27 December 2011 which incorporated many recommendations from NGOs and the Venice Commission. The new code provides that any party that receives 5 percent of the total vote would win at least six seats in parliament and be accorded a parliamentary faction and corresponding privileges, prohibits the use of administrative resources for political purposes, improves postelection complaint procedures, reduces residency requirements for candidates for parliament, requires media to treat candidates equitably, and provides financial incentives for parties to increase the number of women on their parliamentary lists. The code also provides for the establishment of a commission to address pre-election complaints beginning in July 2012. However, the new code fails to address the Venice Commission’s primary recommendation to strengthen the equality of the vote by reconstituting single mandate election districts to be comparable in size.

There are no legal restrictions on political party formation beyond registration requirements, and the electoral code adopted in December allows an individual to run for office without party affiliation. However, members of some organizations linked to the political opposition asserted that they were unduly singled out for harassment and prosecution. Members of some opposition parties reported threatening calls warning them to refrain from party participation and surveillance by local police from unmarked cars. An NGO reported being filmed while entering a hotel conference room to meet with an opposition party. Opposition party members also alleged teacher dismissals due to party affiliation.

The ruling Georgian Dream party dominated the work of the constitutional commission in 2017. There was public indignation over the proposed abolition of direct presidential elections, in favor of indirect election of the president by an electoral college comprising the 150 parliament deputies and 150 regional representatives. Other complaints related to the anticipated transition from the present mixed proportional/majoritarian electoral system to a fully proportional one in which all 150 lawmakers will be elected on the basis of party lists -- a change for which opposition parties have long been lobbying.

Opposition politicians objected vehemently that two other proposed changes effectively negated the anticipated benefits of switching to the proportional system. The first was the abolition of election blocs while preserving the existing 5 percent barrier for parties to qualify for parliamentary representation that, the opposition argues, effectively leaves small parties with no chance of winning any seats. Kobakhidze's stated rationale for that change was that it would contribute to the emergence of half a dozen strong parties rather than the survival of a multiplicity of small ones.

The second was the proposal that all the parliamentary mandates that remained unallocated as a result of votes cast for parties that failed to surmount the 5 percent hurdle should go to whichever party garnered the largest number of votes. Opposition parties construed that provision as intended to ensure that Georgian Dream preserves indefinitely its current constitutional majority. (Georgian Dream won the October 2016 parliamentary elections with 115 of the 150 mandates.)

The Venice Commission was scheduled to unveil its formal assessment of the planned changes on June 16, after which the parliament was to vote on the amendments in the first and second readings before the end of the spring session in late June.

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