The president of Georgia beats impeachment proceedings

Image by Arzu Geybullayeva

The ruling Georgian Dream party failed to impeach the President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili, over her decision to proceed with a Europe tour in support of Georgia’s bid for EU membership in September 2023. The ruling party failed to garner the support of a minimum of 100 parliamentary votes out of 150, with just 86 MPs voting in favor of impeachment and one member of the parliament voting against the decision. The remaining opposition MPs either did not vote or boycotted the session entirely. The result also means the parliament will be unable to vote again to impeach President Zurabishvili on the same charges.

Separately, the ruling Georgian Dream vowed to sue the President in the Constitutional Court, alleging President Zurabishvili acted in violation of the Georgian Constitution Article 52, which states that the President can exercise representative powers in foreign relations only with the consent of the government. On October 16, the Court found President Salome Zurabishvili guilty of violating the constitution by making official visits abroad in August and September after the government refused to grant her official permission to do so.

Maia Kopaleishvili, one of Zurabishvili’s lawyers, told Interpress News, “the Constitutional Court really had neither legal nor factual basis to confirm the violation of the constitution by the president. If the court were acting under fair conditions […] this decision should not have been made.”

Nevertheless, the court's verdict allowed the ruling party to proceed with impeachment proceedings against Zurabishvili, with the final stage being a parliamentary vote. Except, it led to nowhere.

In her address to parliament during the impeachment session, Zurabishvili denied violating the constitution and stated that the vote would harm Georgia’s “European future.” “I will not be deprived of anything by this process. Today, not my fate, but your fate is decided. You are not impeaching me, but yourself, the country, its European future, and every one of your votes [in favor of impeachment] is a vote against this future of ours,” said Zurabishvili.

The President also said she won't resign.

The following day, she vetoed controversial amendments to Georgia’s protests law that would ban the erection of tents or ‘temporary structures’ during protests, as well as strip Otar Partskhaladze, a US-sanctioned former Prosecutor General, of his Georgian citizenship.

According to the U.S. State Department, Partskhaladze, who served as Georgia’s Prosecutor General for a month and a half in 2013, was sanctioned by Washington for “operating or having operated in the management consulting sector” of Russia’s economy and in relation to Russia’s “malign influence” on Georgia.

A few hours before the session began, the Presidential Administration also criticized parliament for not allowing foreign diplomats to attend the session.

A growing rift

The office of Georgia's president has little power and is mainly limited to representative functions, while the majority of the powers rest with the parliament and the Prime Minister. It was not until Russia's invasion of Ukraine that President Zurabishvili took a more critical position against the ruling party which has been fairly warm to Russia amid the ongoing invasion. She regularly criticized the party's rhetoric on the ongoing war and Russia's intentions.

President Zurabishvili also sided with the people and the opposition during the street protests against the government-imposed foreign agent law in March 2023.

Another move that placed the President at odds with the ruling government was her decision to pardon a prominent opposition journalist, Nikoloz Gvaramia, in June 2023, who was sentenced to three and a half years behind bars in May 2022.

In the wake of these escalating tensions, the Georgian Dream banned the president from international visits, but the President decided to embark on the tour regardless of the ban and left Georgia for Europe on August 30. When photos of her meeting with her German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier circulated online, the ruling party said the president was “grossly violating the constitution” and was not authorized to meet with European leaders.

The Georgian opposition parties and several members of the European Parliament were quick to denounce the move by the ruling Georgian Dream to impeach the President. In a joint statement, Georgian organizations, including Open Society Georgia Foundation and Transparency International, said, “The decision of the Georgian Dream to start the impeachment procedure against the President of Georgia is an attack on the country’s aspirations to join the European Union.”

Before Zurabishvili’s impeachment was put to the vote, Transparency International Georgia accused the ruling party of attempting to “sabotage Georgia’s European integration process.”

Georgia's EU aspirations

Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Georgia announced its plan to become a member of the European Union. Since then, the ruling Georgian Dream party has found itself in hot water over a slew of decisions, statements, and criticisms leveled against the West. The ruling government has also taken a U-turn on freedoms and human rights.

As recently as May 2023, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili attended the Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC) meeting in Budapest, where the politician lashed out against LGBTQ+ people, claiming they were spreading propaganda that was against the country's “traditional family values.” But it isn’t just the ruling government's anti-LGBTQ+ stance or deteriorating track record on freedoms and democracy that are drawing international attention. Georgian Dream has also made significant shifts in its relationship with Russia ever since the latter invaded Ukraine, including by resuming flights to and from Russia in May 2023 and allowing sanctioned officials and their families to cross into Georgia.

After the meeting with Zourabichvili in Brussels, the European Council president, Charles Michel, repeated the EU's earlier observations that so long as the government pursues reforms in “justice, deoligarchisation and anti-corruption and media pluralism,” the EU will remain committed to supporting Georgia in advancing to candidacy status.

The EU is set to make a decision regarding Georgia’s EU membership candidate status in November 2023.

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