A Failed Impeachment of the President
The President’s impeachment initiated by the ruling party, which lasted for almost a month and a half, was an unprecedented event in the history of independent Georgia. It was widely perceived as a sabotage to the country’s European integration. However, despite the efforts of the ruling party, the Parliament failed to remove President Salome Zurabishvili from office. 86 members of Parliament voted in favor of removing President Zurabishvili, while one opposed it, falling short of the required two-thirds majority (100 MPs) needed for the impeachment to pass. This means that the President cannot be impeached on the same grounds.
The ruling party initiated a “punitive” impeachment process, citing Salome Zurabishvili’s meetings with the Presidents of Germany and France, as well as the President of the European Council in Brussels without the government’s consent, during which she sought their support for the country’s European integration.
The Plenum of the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the claim made by the ruling party with a vote of 6 in favor and 3 against concluding that the President of Georgia had violated the Constitution. Judges Teimuraz Tughushi, Irine Imerlishvili and Giorgi Kverenchkhiladze expressed a different opinion and disagreed with the conclusion.
The Constitutional Court of Georgia began considering a constitutional petition regarding the impeachment of the President on October 3, 2023. According to the Chairperson of the ruling party, Irakli Kobakhidze, the “Georgian Dream” initiated the impeachment procedure because “Salome Zurabishvili had grossly violated the Constitution of Georgia by embarking on a series of foreign visits without the government’s approval.” He further stated that “an individual unworthy of the presidency should not represent Georgia on any official visits.” It is worth noting that this was not the first time the ruling party had brought a case against the President to the Constitutional Court, although in the previous instance, the lawsuit was withdrawn a few months later.
The public, including the highest-ranking European officials, were well aware that Salome Zurabishvili’s visits served to advance the country’s European integration efforts. Therefore, we contend that the ruling party’s decision to initiate the impeachment procedure of the President of Georgia on these grounds had a detrimental impact on Georgia’s most crucial foreign policy goal – European integration. This is particularly significant as the country awaits the European Commission’s report on granting Georgia the EU candidate status.
To provide a more comprehensive understanding of the political context surrounding the impeachment process, we present a chronological account of the ruling party’s actions against the President from March 14, 2022, decisions and evaluations of the Constitutional Court as well as information about the judges.
March 14, 2022 - Salome Zurabishvili criticized the ruling party during her annual report to the Parliament of Georgia. She publicly addressed the government’s refusal to grant her permission to visit Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and Warsaw.
March 14, 2022 - The Chairperson of the “Georgian Dream” party, Irakli Kobakhidze called the President’s visits a violation of the Constitution of Georgia.
March 15, 2022 - The Political Council of the “Georgian Dream” party issued a statement listing the constitutional violations it attributed to the President’s actions. Furthermore, the party confirmed the rejection of the President’s visits to Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and Warsaw in February.
March 15, 2022 - The political council of the “Georgian Dream” party declared their intention to seek confirmation from the Constitutional Court regarding the President’s alleged violation of the Constitution.
April 14, 2022 - The Parliament of Georgia passed amendments to the Organic Law on the Constitutional Court of Georgia addressing disputes between constitutional bodies. It is worth noting that these legislative amendments coincided with a campaign launched by the ruling party against the President, accusing her of constitutional violations and the potential initiation of a constitutional dispute.
June 7, 2022 - The Government of Georgia appealed to the Constitutional Court against the President and requested clarification on the separation of powers between the President of Georgia and the Government of Georgia regarding the appointment and dismissal of Georgian ambassadors and heads of diplomatic missions.
February 14, 2023 - Members of the “People’s Power” movement, composed of former “Georgian Dream” party MPs who remained in the parliamentary majority, announced their intention to draft a bill on Foreign Agents (the Russian bill) and submit it to the Parliament.
February 20, 2023 - Salome Zurabishvili declared that she will not endorse the bill on the Foreign Agents. According to her, the law did not bring Georgia closer to Europe but rather to Russia’s detrimental model.
February 28, 2023 - Salome Zurabishvili stressed that if the Russian bill was adopted, she would exercise her veto power, as the intention behind this law was to distance Georgia from Europe.
March 7, 2023 - The President reiterated her critical stance on the Russian bill during her speech at the United Nations.
March 8, 2023 - After the Parliament passed the first reading of the Russian bill, Salome Zurabishvili stated that the adoption of this bill was dictated by Moscow and threatened the European future of Georgia, the guarantor of which, among others, is the President.
March 31, 2023 - During her parliamentary address, Salome Zurabishvili strongly criticized the ruling party, highlighting that their actions had strayed from the will and mandate of the people. The President’s critiques were equally severe when it came to other pressing issues, particularly the measures taken by the ruling party concerning Georgia’s European aspirations.
March 31, 2023 - During her parliamentary address, the President emphasized that ongoing discussions by the ruling party, including talks of impeachment, filing a claim with the Constitutional Court, or other accusations, would not influence her decisions. “You could not change me, and you will not be able to change me.” – she said.
April 13, 2023 - It became known that the President of Georgia would not address the European Parliament. After a 13-year hiatus, it was the first time that the European Parliament would have heard the President of Georgia. According to Salome Zurabishvili, this was caused by the prolonged approval process by the Government. The Government refuted the President’s accusation on the same day. The visit of the President to the European Parliament was delayed by a month, but it still took place.
May 26, 2023 - During her speech at the Independence Day event, the President of Georgia reiterated her criticism of the ruling party’s actions, including the restoration of direct flights to Russia and their anti-European and anti-American rhetoric. This was met with vocal dissent from the Georgian Dream MPs in the audience.
May 31, 2023 - The President of Georgia stated in her address to the European Parliament that Georgia should return to the European family and she, as the President, will do everything to achieve this goal.
June 22, 2023 – President Salome Zurabishvili pardoned Nika Gvaramia, the founder of the critical “Mtavari Arkhi”, after a year of imprisonment and explained that she acted independently, within the scope of her discretionary powers.
August 31, 2023 - It was revealed that the Government had issued a written refusal to President Salome Zurabishvili for official visits to 10 countries: Germany, Ukraine, Switzerland, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, the United Arab Emirates, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Israel.
August 31, 2023 - President Salome Zurabishvili, despite the Government’s refusal, departed for a meeting with European leaders to advocate for Georgia’s EU candidate status.
August 31, 2023 - The Chairperson of the ruling party, Irakli Kobakhidze, once again regarded President Zurabishvili’s visits as a potential reason to initiate impeachment proceedings against her.
September 1, 2023 - Irakli Kobakhidze announced the start of the impeachment procedure against the President of Georgia.
September 12, 2023 – A representative of the parliamentary majority submitted a petition to the Constitutional Court regarding the impeachment of the President of Georgia. The petition was endorsed by 80 members of the Parliament.
September 22, 2023 - The Constitutional Court of Georgia accepted the Constitutional Court of Georgia accepted the constitutional petition regarding the alleged violation of the Constitution by the President.
October 3, 4, 5, 2023 - The Constitutional Court of Georgia deliberated on the constitutional petition addressing the alleged violation of the Constitution by the President.
October 16, 2023 - The Constitutional Court ruled that the President of Georgia had violated the Constitution, with a majority vote of 6 to 3. Judges Teimuraz Tugushi, Irine Imerlishvili, and Giorgi Kverenchkhiladze disagreed with the conclusion.
On October 3, 4 and 5, 2023, the Constitutional Court conducted open sessions where the participants in the proceedings had the chance to present their arguments orally to the court. Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which outlines principles for a fair trial, establishes that justice should not only be administered impartially but also be perceived as such.
It should be noted that partiality was evident to some extent during the process. A noticeable tendency was observed when the Chairperson of the Constitutional Court, Merab Turava, openly tried to help/support the representative of the government or the Chairperson of the ruling party. The support was largely evident in the formulation of questions.
The final hearing in the Constitutional Court took place on October 5, and the verdict was issued on October 16. The Constitutional Court ruled that the visits by the President of Georgia without the consent of the Government constituted a violation of the Constitution. The Constitutional Court emphasized that the evaluation of the constitutionality of the President of Georgia’s actions could not be affected by the fact that the President was conducting meetings for Georgia’s European integration in accordance with Article 78 of the Constitution of Georgia. According to the Constitutional Court, the President had no right to undertake official visits abroad without the government’s consent.
The Court also clarified that the violation of the provision established by one norm of the Constitution could not be justified by invoking the protection of another norm, including the motivation of good intentions.
Irine Imerlishvili, Giorgi Kverenchkhiladze, and Teimuraz Tughushi dissented from the Constitutional Court's conclusion, presenting a differing opinion.
According to their explanation, neither the authors of the petition nor the judges who authored the Constitutional Court’s opinion indicate that the contentious visits by the President or the opinions expressed during her visits had in any way harmed or obstructed the execution of foreign policy by the Government of Georgia. Irine Imerlishvili, Giorgi Kverenchkhiladze, and Teimuraz Tughushi also emphasized that there is no evidence in the case confirming that the President of Georgia obstructed the execution of foreign policy by the Government.
According to Irine Imerlishvili, Giorgi Kverenchkhiladze, and Teimuraz Tughushi, the 6 judges of the Plenum of the Constitutional Court largely incorrectly analyzed the constitutional role and purpose of the President. They also noted that by endorsing the President of Georgia’s removal, the Constitutional Court establishes a formal legal justification for political views that suggest the President can be ousted from office on the grounds of “lack of trust”.
They further expanded that the President’s removal leads to a more significant violation of the constitutional interest of exercising power by the President than the violation indicated in the petition of the ruling party.
Three conclusions of the Friend of the Court are appended to the constitutional petition under consideration, all of which assert that there are no instances of the President violating the Constitution.
Merab Turava - Judge of the Constitutional Court elected by the Parliament’s quota, Chairman of the Constitutional Court
He was born on September 23, 1964 in Zugdidi. In 1990, he graduated with honors in jurisprudence from the Faculty of Law at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University.
Detailed information about the Judge’s biography can be found here.
His name is associated with the high-profile incident of refusing to sign the decision of the Constitutional Court in the case of Gigi Ugulava. In 2015, the Constitutional Court deliberated whether the Tbilisi City Court had the authority to extend Gigi Ugulava’s pretrial detention beyond the maximum 9-month period stipulated by the Constitution. The Constitutional Court ruled that the Common Courts did not have the right to do so. Judge Merab Turava, while participating in the case’s deliberations, abstained from signing the decision. According to the law, a judge does not have the right to refrain from signing. If a judge does not agree with the decision of the majority, she/he can write a dissenting opinion. However, Judge Merab Turava also did not write a dissenting opinion.
Following the conclusion of the Ethics and Disciplinary Affairs Commission of the Constitutional Court, the Plenum determined that Judge Merab Turava's absence in court and refusal to sign the decision constituted a violation of the requirements of the law.
- In 2005, the High Council of Justice initiated disciplinary proceedings against 15 judges. Among these judges, Nino Gvenetadze, Merab Turava, Tamar Laliashvili, and Murman Isaevi were known as the so-called rebel judges. The Council acquitted some of the judges and issued an admonishment to part of them. The most severe punishment - dismissal was used against the so-called rebel judges. Among the supporters of this decision were the then Chairperson of the Supreme Court Kote Kublashvili and Judge Levan Murusidze, who is now considered one of the leaders of the clan. One of the so-called “rebel judges” Tamar Laliashvili brought the case to the European Court of Human Rights and won it in 2019. Merab Turava also filed a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights, but after being appointed to the Constitutional Court, he did not continue the dispute.
Vasil Roinishvili - Judge of the Constitutional Court appointed by the quota of the Plenum of the Supreme Court, Deputy Chairperson of the Constitutional Court and Chairperson of the First Collegium
Detailed information about the Judge’s biography can be found here.
- The appointment of Vasil Roinishvili is seen as strengthening the influence of the group of judges from the Common Courts in the Constitutional Court. He was appointed by the Plenum of the Supreme Court through non-transparent procedures during a state of emergency and a pandemic crisis.
- In 2016, Vasil Roinishvili, along with other leaders and members of a group of influential judges, was elected as a board member of the NLE “Association of Judges” with Levan Murusidze serving as its chairperson. Roinishvili held this position until 2019.
Detailed information about the Judge’s biography can be found here.
- In 2013-2017, she was a member of the High Council of Justice of Georgia.
- In 2015, Eva Gotsiridze openly supported the appointment of Levan Murusidze, now sanctioned by the USA, as a judge with a 3-year probationary period. Since this period, her positions aligned closely with the interests of influential judges in the Court.
- In 2017, before being elected as a judge of the Constitutional Court, Eva Gotsiridze spoke about her reasons for supporting Levan Murusidze and openly admitted that her decision was not based on legal considerations but on external factors.
- Due to the critical monitoring report of the High Council of Justice, Eva Gotsiridze accused the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and Transparency International Georgia of having an anti-state stance.
- The election of Eva Gotsiridze to the Constitutional Court also received criticism. According to the position of the non-governmental sector, the process was conducted in an opaque and forced manner.
- In 2016, the Georgian government nominated Eva Gotsiridze as one of the three candidates for the position of judge of the European Court of Human Rights. Her candidacy was deemed unacceptable not only by non-governmental organizations and the opposition but also by the then-President, Giorgi Margvelashvili. The European Court of Human Rights did not approve any of the proposed candidates as judges.
Giorgi Tevdorashvili - Judge of the Constitutional Court of Georgia appointed by the President’s quota, Secretary of the Constitutional Court
Detailed information about the biography of the Judge can be found here.
- In 2019, he took part in the selection for judges of the Supreme Court and was among the 50 individuals chosen by the High Council of Justice. However, the Council did not ultimately nominate Giorgi Tevdorashvili as a candidate for the position of a judge of the Supreme Court to the Parliament.
Manana Kobakhidze - Judge of the Constitutional Court elected by the Parliament’s quota, Deputy Chairperson of the Constitutional Court, Chairperson of the Second Collegium
Detailed information about Judge’s biography can be accessed here.
- In 2012-2013, she was elected as the Chairperson of “Georgian Dream - Democratic Georgia”.
- In 2012-2016, she was the First Deputy Chairperson of the Parliament of 8th Convocation, the majoritarian deputy of the Sachkhere district.
- In 2016, she was elected as an MP of the Parliament 9th Convocation of the of Georgia.
- The election of Manana Kobakhidze to the Constitutional Court in 2017 was criticized by non-governmental organizations and the parliamentary opposition due to her political past and homophobic statements.
Khvicha Kikilashvili - Judge of the Constitutional Court appointed by the quota of the Supreme Court Plenum
Detailed information about Judge’s biography can be found here.
- Khvicha Kikilashvili’s son, Goga Kikilashvili, was elected by the Parliament of Georgia as a member of the High Council of Justice on October 17, 2023, the day following the decision of the Constitutional Court.
- He has no experience in the field of constitutional law.
- It is believed that with the appointment of Khvicha Kikilashvili to the Constitutional Court, the power of the influential group of judges of the Common Courts increased. He was appointed by the Plenum of the Supreme Court through opaque procedures during a state of emergency and a pandemic crisis. Although the vacancy was available since December 5, 2019, the Plenum took advantage of the state of emergency and filled the vacancy at a time when public attention was diminished due to the situation in the country.
Teimuraz Tughushi - Judge of the Constitutional Court appointed by the quota of the Supreme Court Plenum, Deputy Chairperson of the Constitutional Court
He was born on September 15, 1976 in Lanchkhuti.
Detailed information about Judge’s biography is available here.
- From 2010 to 2016, he served as the Deputy Head and later the Head of the Department of Legal Provision and Research of the Constitutional Court.
- On September 20, 2016, he was appointed as a judge of the Constitutional Court by the resolution of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Irine Imerlishvili - Judge of the Constitutional Court appointed by the President’s quota
Detailed information about Judge’s biography can be found here.
- From 2013 to 2016, during the presidency of Giorgi Margvelashvili, she served as the Assistant to the President of Georgia in national security affairs and as the Secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia.
- In 2016, she was appointed as a judge of the Constitutional Court by the decree of Giorgi Margvelashvili