“Parliament is a place where all of the important issues of the country’s life must be solved, including the adoption of certain standards for political processes.” These were the words of the newly elected Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, Davit Usupashvili, at the first session of the Parliament of Georgia, in 2012. Mr Usupashvili also stated: “The Government of Georgia has to be the executer of the policy elaborated by the Parliament of Georgia… Opportunities for constructive disagreements with the Government of Georgia are not only for the Parliamentary Minority but for the Parliamentary Majority as well.” He added further: “This shadow governance in Georgia should come to an end.” Mr Usupashvili also discussed many other principles that the new Parliament was supposed to promote.
In fact, the Parliament of Georgia is the same Parliament which did not formally welcome President Mikheil Saakashvili at its very first session and which also did not allow him to enter the Parliament to deliver his annual address. Further, this is the same Parliament which did not find a seat for the new President, Giorgi Margvelashvili, and if the former Prime Minister of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili, had not intervened, the Parliament of Georgia would not even have allowed Mr Margvelashvili to enter the building as a means of pleasing the then incumbent Prime Minister, Irakli Gharibashvili.
Davit Usupashvili did indeed promise that the Parliament of Georgia would be cooperative with the Opposition and that they would not be “chained to their seats.” This said, the Parliamentary Minority made five requests for the establishing of an investigative commission to deal with extremely important issues. The Parliamentary Majority refused their requests for the same five times.
The Parliamentary Majority at times made their decisions purposely in order to irritate the Opposition which inflicted direct harm upon the country’s interests. For example, we can look at the case when the President of the Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was elected at the session of the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly held in Tbilisi. One of the candidates for the presidency was Gigi Tsereteli but the Georgian delegation, which mostly included representatives from the ruling coalition, stood against his candidacy. The only reason for this, almost openly declared by the Georgian Dream representatives, was that Mr Tsereteli was a member of the United National Movement.
One of the most distinguished features of the Parliament of Georgia’s 2012 convocation was that the Parliamentary Majority had to withstand the opposition of a stronger and more experienced Parliamentary Minority. This was the first case in the country’s history when the Government of Georgia faced parliamentary opposition from the same political entity which had experience of being in the government itself.
Two Presidents and Six Vetoes
The relation between the President and the Parliament of Georgia is of special interest. Initially, it seemed that the Parliament of Georgia’s opposition to President Mikheil Saakashvili was logical; that is, the two being political opponents. After the change of the President, however, it became evident that the Parliament of Georgia did not have good relations with the President from their own political team either.
The confrontation followed the decision of President Giorgi Margvelashvili to choose the Avlabari Presidential Palace as his residence. The then Prime Minister of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili, offered fierce criticism of the President’s decision. From that moment on, both the Parliament and the Government of Georgia began to have contempt for Mr Margvelashvili.
The confrontation was especially acute and overtly obvious during Irakli Gharibashvili’s tenure as the Prime Minister of Georgia. The Parliament of Georgia stripped the President of his constitutional rights three times in a row and had a serious discussion of delegating the President’s right to award successful students with scholarships to the Prime Minister. There was constant squabbling over who was supposed to represent Georgia at international events, which was very harmful for the country’s interests, as well as who was supposed to sign international agreements, among other issues.
The quarrelling became especially severe when it came to the signing of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement. Eventually, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili signed the document. Furthermore, sharp disputes were generated on who was supposed to travel from Georgia to attend United Nations General Assembly sessions.
During the ratification of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, members of the Parliamentary Majority were so disinclined to see President Giorgi Margvelashvili in the Parliament in order to please Mr Gharibashvili that they claimed that there were not enough seats for him. This was the very argument openly voiced by Eka Beselia as to why Mr Margvelashvili could not come to the Parliament.
Later, after the intervention of the former Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, this problem was solved. In response, President Margvelashvili, in a voice loud enough for everyone in the session hall to hear, said to Eka Beselia: “You have seats after all.” However, the Parliament of Georgia still managed to show disrespect toward the President and did not display the required adornments which are usually in place according to protocol when the President or other honorary guests visit the Parliament.
In parallel, the Government of Georgia showed its disrespect toward President Giorgi Margvelashvili by not attending a single one of his Presidential Addresses before the Parliament. The reason for their absence was usually ascribed to the fact that Mr Margvelashvili was not the head of the government. However, according to the existing law, the President of Georgia is indeed the head of state whilst the government is a part of the state.
Of additional note is that the tensions and confrontations were significantly alleviated after the new Prime Minister came into office. Not so long ago, President Margvelashvili himself declared: “It is possible to work with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili.”
The Eighth Convocation of the Parliament of Georgia had to deal with two Presidents and both of them used their rights to veto. Admittedly, there were not as many vetoes as under Eduard Shevardnadze’s presidency but there were some, nonetheless.
President Eduard Shevardnadze used his right to veto approximately 40 times, President Mikheil Saakashvili used his right two times and President Giorgi Margvelashvili has used his right four times. Mr Saakashvili did not use his right to veto until 2012 whilst Mr Margvelashvili used his right to veto laws adopted by his teammates even though they were teammates in name only. Of these four vetoes, the Parliament of Georgia managed to override two of them and acquiesced with the President’s position in the remainder of the cases. More importantly, Mr Margvelashvili’s term as President expires at the end of 2018 when the number of vetoes might increase.
Laws and the Role of Match Sticks in the Legislative Process
Whilst talking about Georgia’s laws which have been discussed or adopted by this Parliament, the initiatives to ban ribbed condoms and the wearing of a chokha (Georgian traditional folk costume for men) in the Parliament are among the first to come to our minds. It is true than neither of these initiatives were adopted but both of these laws have become a trademark for this Parliament.
However, if this Parliament does not hold the record for discussions and adoptions of laws, it does not lag far behind the country’s previous Parliaments. Despite Davit Usupashvili’s promise that this Parliament would be a driving force to define policy, the tradition was honoured, this time too, as the Parliament was usually too busy to adopt laws initiated by the Government of Georgia.
According to the official data of the Parliament of Georgia, a total of 1,505 laws were adopted in the period of 2012-2016 and 231 plenary sessions were held. Of this number, 62 sessions were snap and nine sessions failed due to the absence of a quorum.
At the sessions which did not fail, a total of 865 draft laws which were submitted by the Government of Georgia were discussed and adopted whilst MPs submitted 440 draft laws. Parliamentary Committees drafted 177 laws with, among the committees, the Committee for Legal Issues being the most productive with 95 draft laws prepared. In regard to Parliamentary factions, of the 13 draft laws adopted by the Parliament, four were initiated by Industry Will Save Georgia, three by the United National Movement, two by the Free Democrats and one by the National Forum as well as those from every other faction which were a part of the Parliamentary Majority.
If we look at individuals, the most active MP was Davit Onoprishvili with 38 draft laws. Irakli Sesiashvili came in second place with 22 draft laws and Giorgi Tsagareishvili was third with 20 draft laws.
MP Koba Davitashvili was also active in terms of drafting and submitting the laws which initiated 17 projects before the 2013 Presidential elections. After the Presidential elections, he kept his promise and distanced himself from active political processes.
Apart from draft laws, the Parliament of Georgia adopted 5,141 ordinances, five resolutions, eight statements, two declarations and one address.
The problem of achieving a quorum has been constant in the Parliament of Georgia. Several public displays of anger on the part of the Parliamentary Speaker, Davit Usupashvili, when he demanded punishing absent MPs together with active media coverage, did not help to solve this problem. However, some of the MPs who attended the sessions freed themselves from voting by inserting match sticks into electronic voting buttons to indicate their status as being in ‘voting mode’ during sessions of the Parliament. In this manner, they were able to leave the session hall, as well as the Parliament building itself, whilst the electronic device showed that they were actively engaged.
Record Number of Fistfights
Soso Jachvliani’s famous speech about the EBRD garnered global attention. It was after MP Jachvliani finished speaking about his personal morals that he added that he would not embarrass himself by being in “an EBRD.” This was followed by world media wondering how the MP from Georgia could have confused the EBRD – the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development – with a brothel. Of particular note is that this was a time when the Parliament of Georgia hosted an event of international importance related to the EBRD.
Another aspect which put the world’s spotlight on the Eight Convocation of the Parliament was the session hall’s fistfights and punch-ups. The aggression was usually initiated by the Parliamentary Majority against the Parliamentary Minority.
Fights between women MPs happened as well such as the one between Khatuna Gogorishvili and Eka Beselia. Furthermore, fights also started because of the men from the Parliamentary Majority verbally abusing the women of the Parliamentary Minority.
Omar Nishnianidze, MP, played the most active role in the fistfights and punch-ups. Mr Nishnianidze made himself memorable for the media by his loud statements and provoking fights at plenary sessions. The MP has been a participant in almost every fight which took place at the session hall, typically cussing or spouting profanity at the United National Movement from his seat or attempting to remind the Opposition of its past.
The biggest fight happened at the end of December 2013 when Parliamentary Majority member, Soso Jachvliani, and Parliamentary Minority member, Giorgi Baramidze, verbally and physically assaulted each other. Other MPs had to stand between them to prevent further escalation.
The fight between Messrs Jachvliani and Baramidze was followed by Mr Jachvliani’s speech in which he stated that the United National Movement government was trying to make the region of Svaneti loathsome for the rest of Georgia. This was the time when one of the most memorable phrases of the Eighth Convocation of the Parliament of Georgia was voiced: “Do not try to look tough, you … (expletive deleted)!” This was uttered by Soso Jachvliani to Giorgi Baramidze.
A fight which took place a year later, on 26 December 2014, was almost on the same scale as it followed a dispute in regard to the division of quotas in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The fistfight followed a statement made by United National Movement member, Akaki Bobokhidze, who blamed the ruling team for dragging the country toward Russia. Mr Bobokhidze’s statement was accompanied by comments from the Parliamentary Majority with Mr Bobokhidze using profanity in his address to one of the comments. Almost every MP was involved in the aforementioned fistfight. Parliamentary Majority member, Zaza Papuashvili, broke the microphones and threw them at Goga Khachidze. For several minutes, the Parliament’s sergeants-at-arms were unable to stop the fight. Soso Jachvliani pushed one of the sergeants after which he fell down the stairs of the session hall.
The Speaker of the Parliament called upon the MP to stop his aggressive behaviour. However, Soso Jachvliani continued the brawl afterwards and physically assaulted Sergo Ratiani, MP.
During the fistfight, Zurab Zviadauri, MP, climbed on top of a table and jumped on Akaki Bobokhidze. Eventually, some of the MPs and members of the Parliament’s sergeant-at-arms personnel managed to pull Messrs Bobokhidze and Zviadauri off of each other.
After that, fights during sessions of the Parliament or committee hearings were quite frequent, including the confrontation between the Republican party and Gogi Topadze, MP. However, these particular quarrels did not escalate into fistfights or punch-ups.
Another fistfight broke out at a session of the Parliament in March 2016. The reason for the conflict was a statement made by the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, Giorgi Baramidze, in regard to secret videos of the private lives of individuals. Mr Baramidze called upon the Government of Georgia to punish those individuals responsible for making the recordings. After his speech, the floor was given to Luka Kurtanidze, MP, and a fight broke out. Georgian Dream MP, Omar Nishnianidze, started a fight with United National Movement representative, Mikheil Machavariani, whilst Karlo Kopaliani, MP, threw a microphone at Mr Machavariani. The situation was rectified after the involvement of the Parliament’s sergeant-at-arms personnel.
Further, we witnessed a fight between the ruling party and the United National Movement following an initiative to observe a moment of silence for victims of the previous government and those who died on 26 May 2011 which was proposed by Zaza Papuashvili, MP. After Mr Papuashvili made his statement, members of the Parliamentary Majority rose to their feet in observance of the request. However, members of the United National Movement did not stand for the moment of silence. This was then followed by a comment directed at them by a member of the ruling team, Otar Chrdileli.
At the initial stage of this particular confrontation, Otar Chrdileli and United National Movement representative, Tariel Londaridze, entered into a verbal confrontation. Later, Zurab Zviadauri fought against Mr Londaridze. The Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, Zviad Dzidziguri, urged Mr Zviadauri to leave the session hall because of his use of profanity. After that, a fight broke out between Georgian Dream member, Omar Nishnianidze, and United National Movement representative, Giorgi Tevdoradze.
The last fight at the Parliament happened because of the so-called Kortskheli incident whose discussion resulted in an escalation of a brawl. United National Movement members demanded that the Ministry of Internal Affairs identify and punish the perpetrators. This led to the start of a brawl by Zurab Zviadauri who was then immediately expelled from the session hall thereby preventing the greater escalation of the confrontation.
Certainly, there were plenty of other fights and confrontations alongside and in parallel with many different issues. However, the aforementioned cases are sufficient to see the peculiarities of the work of the Eighth Convocation of the Parliament of Georgia. Of necessary mention, however, is that this was the first time in the history of Georgia when the Parliament had to work quite far from the capital and, for the last two years, worked in two different cities altogether.