Four MPs leave UNM opposition faction after controversial vote for judiciary body

  • The MPs left the faction after facing criticism from their colleagues. Photo: RFE/RL, 18 May 2023 - 13:01, Tbilisi,Georgia

Four MPs in the United National Movement parliamentary faction - the largest opposition in Georgia’s lawmaking body - on Wednesday left the group following their vote for three new, non-judge members in the country’s High Council of Justice enabled the ruling party-backed candidates to receive necessary support in the session.

Lawmakers Nato Chkheidze, Rostom Chkheidze, Bachuki Kardava and Nikoloz Machutadze announced their decision of leaving UNM following allegations from their colleagues on alleged “alliance and confidential agreement” with the ruling Georgian Dream party in their backing of the “biased candidates”.

The MPs were also accused of their votes serving to “strengthen” an alleged “clan” in the judiciary system, which the domestic opposition and some civil organisations have claimed is affiliated with the Government. 

The election of the non-judge members in the 15-member Council - an independent body selecting and appointing judges across the country - required votes by 90 MPs in the 150-member legislative body. GD currently holds 84 seats, including the party’s former members who still remain in the parliamentary majority.

The Parliament will vote on the candidates for two vacant seats in the HCJ later on Thursday. Photo: Parliament press office.

The four opposition MPs confirmed to the media on Wednesday they had voted for the candidates, and called it a “wrong move” caused by “miscommunication” with UNM party leadership.

A fifth opposition lawmaker, Dilar Khabuliani, who media reports said had also voted for the Council candidates, has not left the faction or appeared for press comments so far. 

A majority of opposition lawmakers left the session in protest early on Wednesday, shortly after they learned three of the 29 candidates nominated for the Council had received necessary votes with the support of the opposition lawmakers. 

The protest was slammed by ruling party representatives, who accused the opposition of “creating obstacles” for Georgia’s European integration through their “hampering” of the judiciary reform - one of 12 conditions outlined by the bloc last year for granting its membership candidate status to Georgia later this year. 

The Parliament is scheduled to vote on candidates for two vacant seats of non-judge members in the Council on Thursday, amid critical comments by the domestic civil sector that the ruling party-backed candidates could “further strengthen the clan of judges” in the judiciary and “impede” the country’s democratic progress. 

The ruling party has rejected claims of a “clan” in the judiciary, citing international rankings showing progress in the domestic courts system over the years. 

Wednesday’s vote also came following the United States Department of State’s decision last month to impose visa restrictions on three acting and one former Georgian judges for their alleged “involvement in significant corruption”, and said they had abused “their positions as court chairmen and members of Georgia’s High Council of Justice, undermining the rule of law and the public’s faith in Georgia’s judicial system”.

Georgian Government representatives said the sanctions came without evidence, and called them “incomprehensible and unfair”.