Mamuka Mdinaradze, the chairperson of the Georgian Dream parliamentary faction and the party’s executive secretary, stated at a 31 August briefing that the ruling party will not nominate a candidate for the Public Defender “except in the event that there may be an artificial hindering of the process, sabotage, [and] the deliberate non-nomination of candidates by the opposition.”
According to MP Mdinaradze, following meetings with the opposition and civil society and “taking into account their position,” the ruling party decided to register legislative changes in Parliament according to which the general criteria for evaluating a candidate for Public Defender will be outlined.
Per the MP’s explanation, this implies good faith, impartiality, a high reputation, proper professional knowledge, and practical experience in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
MP Mdinaradze said that this will also allow the Parliament Speaker to issue an extraordinary order to determine the rules for evaluating any candidates.
In line with his statements, the ruling party MP presented a general outline of the rules for selecting and evaluating candidates for the Public Defender, which are as follows:
- Anyone can nominate a candidate for the post of Public Defender;
- Each candidate will be evaluated by a group composed of representatives of civil society (including representatives of professional and academic circles) according to the criteria specified in the regulations;
- After that, the candidates, of which there must be at least 7, will be presented with their evaluations to Parliament for election;
- There will be no maximum for the number of candidates that can be presented.
According to MP Mdinaradze, through these changes, the ruling party fulfills its promise that it would offer the Parliamentary opposition an inclusive process for selecting the Public Defender by 1 September which will allow for a candidate “who will be equally acceptable to the majority and the opposition [and] will have high legitimacy.”
MP Mdinaradze also denoted that the voting to elect the Public Defender will take place no later than 1 December.
Mikheil Sarjveladze Explains
Ruling party MP and chairperson of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee Mikheil Sarjveladze explained on 1 September that Parliament will begin accepting candidates on 20 September. At the same time, Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili will create a 9-member working group from civil society organizations and professional academic circles which will evaluate candidates. The group will be expected to evaluate all candidates by 13 October, after which the relevant materials and evaluations will be forwarded to Parliament.
Parliament will then be expected to select and nominate candidates for the Public Defender no later than 21 October. According to MP Sarjveladze, after that, the process will be transferred to the Committee, where the selected candidates will be publicly heard and civil society members will be able to attend the sessions.
“The main goal is to conduct the process of choosing the Public Defender as transparently and inclusively as possible, which this plan fully ensures, and for the process to be definitely effective so that the position of the Public Defender does not remain vacant for a long time,” MP Sarjveladze emphasized.
Per Sarjveladze, the process to achieve this goal is planned in such a way that “it becomes possible to make a decision within the set time frame.” Noting that 90 votes from deputies are required to elect a Public Defender, the MP underscored that this “will not be an easy task,” “but as a result of political consultations, we hope it will be possible.”
The MP also said that “unfortunately” there is a high risk of political sabotage from the opposition but he stressed that “the insurance mechanism [against this] has also been thought of.”
Parts of the opposition responded with skepticism to the ruling party’s plans for changes to the procedure for selecting the Public Defender. According to Khatia Dekanoidze, a United National Movement MP, MP Mdinaradze’s statement “is a direct indication that they [Georgian Dream] do not plan on choosing an independent Public Defender and, in general, on fulfilling this important point [of the European Commission’s recommendations].”
According to MP Dekanoidze, the UNM party will participate in the process organized by civil society organizations, after which they will present candidates who “will be truly worthy and independent candidates.”
Per Strategy Aghmashenebeli MP Paata Manjgaladze, the ruling party’s plan is “another political scam with the participation of Georgian Dream.” The MP stated that according to the procedure proposed by the ruling party, the “non-governmental organizations controlled by them will nominate a candidate [for Public Defender.]”
“After that, the satellite organization, on behalf of the opposition party, will present this candidate and Georgian Dream will choose it. In fact, Georgian Dream will advance the candidate it wants through someone else’s hand,” he said.
According to Lelo for Georgia MP Salome Samadashvili, the ruling party’s statements about the opposition sabotaging the new process for selecting a Public Defender is “a bit comical” since the opposition has stated “many times” that it will support the candidate presented by civil society.
Per MP Samadashvili, the only thing necessary for the selection of a Public Defender that “the country needs” is the political will to do so. The Lelo MP emphasized that “it will be seen in the process whether the Georgian Dream has any real will” or if they will try to use this situation to pursue their own agenda.
“Georgian Dream does not want to succeed at all. Even if discussions are held on the Ombudsman, there will be no success there either,” said Girchi MP Iago Khvichia.
Citizens’ MP Levan Ioseliani holds a different position from his colleagues. Per the MP’s opinion, it would be good if everyone had the opportunity to participate in the working group to evaluate candidates for the Public Defender. “The fact that the ruling party will not nominate a candidate for the Public Defender is a good thing,” he added.
Significantly on 30 August, before presenting the new procedure for selecting a Public Defender, the ruling party met with members of the opposition. The meeting, however, was attended only by deputies from the Citizens, Girchi, For Georgia, and European Socialists.
Civil Society Responds
Civil society also raised several questions regarding the ruling party’s new procedure for selecting the Public Defender.
Nika Simonishvili, the chairperson of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), remarked that the process “raises a number of questions” from the point of view of reliability.
“Perhaps the government will not nominate [the candidate for Public Defender] directly, but the commission created by it and the persons designated within it will nominate the candidate or candidates who will be acceptable to the government,” Simonishvili added and emphasized the importance of an inclusive process.
According to Lasha Tughushi, director of the Liberal Academy Tbilisi foundation, under the conditions of “very high” polarization in the country, it will be “very difficult” to select a candidate if the main participants in the nomination process are politicians.
“I think it would be better if, at the first stage, it [the process of naming candidates] will be entrusted to civil society,” he said.
“We hope that to some extent an agreement will be reached between the opposition and the ruling party and no unconstructive steps will be taken,” said the executive director of the Human Rights Center, Aleko Tskitishvili.