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Georgian Parliament Backs Controversial Changes To Constitution


The vote was was held despite a request to convene a special session of parliament by speaker Irakli Kobakhidze. (file photo)

Georgian lawmakers have given final approval to draft constitutional amendments that would shift the government to a parliamentary-style system, with the president elected by lawmakers.

The amendments, which also include a measure to legalize the purchase of land by foreigners, passed parliament on September 26.

They were pushed through mainly on the vote of lawmakers from the ruling Georgian Dream political party.

Two opposition parties, United National Movement and European Georgia-Movement for Liberty, walked out of the session, while a third party, the Alliance of Georgia's Patriots, voted against the amendments.

The vote was held despite speaker Irakli Kobakhidze’s request to convene a special session of parliament. That request was rejected by President Giorgi Margvelashvili on September 25.

Opponents have argued that the amendments had been drafted by the State Constitutional Commission, whose members are mainly from Georgian Dream, with the aim of consolidating the party’s power.

With the parliamentary vote, the amendments now go to Margvelashvili for his signature and publication in the official legislative bulletin before they go into effect.

If Margvelashvili vetoes the measures and returns them to parliament, only 76 votes in parliament will be required to overturn the veto, compared with 113 votes under normal circumstances.

The changes to the country's land law are a further step away from Georgia's communist legacy.

Under current law, agricultural land can only be sold to state entities, or private individuals, or groups of individuals, who are Georgian citizens.

The amendments set up a mechanism that will allow exceptions if parliament decides by a super-majority.

In addition to the election of the president by parliament and legalizing land sales to foreigners, the amendments enable а party who dominates in an election to acquire more parliamentary seats through redistribution after elections.

The changes will not affect next year’s presidential election.

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