The Government’s and the majority’s attitude towards a special parliamentary session goes against fundamental principles of democracy
Over the last few weeks the parliamentary minority has been requesting the government’s economic team to report to the Parliament. MPs representing the United National Movement (UNM) and the Free Democrats have asked the President Giorgi Margvelashvili to convene a special parliamentary session to discuss economic issues on two separate occasions. On March 10 the President finally granted their request. The President’s decision was met with a worrying number of ill-founded arguments from the parliamentary majority and the government. It is still not clear whether the government's economic team will attend the session or whether lack of a quorum will mean the sessions is canceled altogether.
The first time the UNM asked the President to convene a special session was on February 24. The President rejected this request due to government plans to present an anti-crisis plan on March 5. After the government failed to present its plan, the President, based on written and oral requests from the UNM and the Free Democrats, made the decision to convene a special parliamentary session on Friday March 13.
The President’s decision was met with arguments from majority MPs and government officials. The arguments included statements that the President’s decision was ‘embarrassing’, that he complied with the UNM and that he must first agree such decisions with the majority. The Minister of Finance stated that discussion of economic issues in a ‘talk show’ format is unacceptable for him.
The President’s decision was perhaps also the reason why the parliamentary majority canceled and indefinitely postponed its March 10 meeting with the President to discuss territorial integrity. Another objection the majority voiced was that they would need time to prepare for the special parliamentary session.
At this point it is not clear whether there will be quorum to hold the special session on March 13. Some Georgian Dream Coalition MPs have already stated that they will not take part in this ‘mob’ organized by the UNM. MPs have the largest number of questions for the Minister of Finance; he has stated that he does not know whether he will attend the session. Moreover, he said that he holds a negative attitude towards this form of relationship with the Parliament. The majority MPs and the Finance Minister have instead already expressed readiness to attend an upcoming session also related to economic issues to be held on Thursday by the Parliamentary Committee on Economic Policy.
It should be noted that on February 23 minority MPs were not allowed to attend a government meeting to share their views on the country’s economy. The Minister of Finance commented by saying that "a government meeting is not a circus". Leader of the parliamentary majority Davit Saganelidze stated that the minority’s requests to hold a special session were akin to a chronic disease.
We believe that recent events have highlighted several significant problems:
1. The Parliament does not fulfill its role of controlling the government.
The Parliament, the country’s highest representative body, should be focused on holding the government accountable. Summoning ministers to parliamentary sessions is a constitutional right granted to MPs in order to help them exercise control over the executive branch. All MPs must attend parliamentary sessions and fulfill their duties regardless of their feelings towards the political party initiating the session. There is a sense that the protest expressed by majority MPs is not based on independent views, but rather a result of government influence.
2. Actions of the executive disrupt the balance between branches of government.
The attitude expressed by government officials towards requests made by the parliamentary minority is a clear example of disrespect towards fundamental principles of democracy and the Constitution. This is not the first time the government tries to ignore and undermine the presidency. Stating that the President’s decision to convene a special parliamentary session is ‘embarrassing’ and ‘inappropriate’ further strengthens the perception that the government wants the other branches to play only a symbolic role. All of this diminishes the importance of the presidency.
Delays in execution of parliamentary control mechanisms and grievances expressed towards the presidency indicate that Georgia is still very far from becoming a state with a mature political culture.
3. The fundamental principles of representative democracy are being violated.
The Parliament is the highest representative body elected by citizens. Government officials are accountable not only to MPs representing the parliamentary majority, but also those from the minority and other parliamentary opposition groups. Therefore, government officials are obligated to answer questions from all MPs, regardless of the faction they represent. Otherwise, the legal authority granted to the Parliament to control the executive branch by summoning and questioning its members on various issues loses all meaning.
We believe that all government officials must respect the constitution, which establishes the main principles of accountability and separation of power. MPs must have full opportunity to freely engage in control and oversight of the government. In turn, the Parliament and the Government must respect the decisions made by the President. They must fulfill their legal obligations and attend the special parliamentary session, regardless of who convened it.