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5 September 2023

Georgian Dream Decides to Impeach President Zourabichvili

Georgia's political scene is in turmoil as Georgian Dream seeks to impeach President Zourabichvili following years of discord, notably on EU integration, casting doubts on the nation's stability and commitment to its European future.

Georgian Dream Decides to Impeach President Zourabichvili

Image: Dmitry Khorov/Shutterstock

The relationship between Georgian Dream (GD) and President Salome Zourabichvili has deteriorated for several years. According to Irakli Kobakhidze, the party’s Chairman, this decline began in 2021 when, in his view, Zourabichvili decided to align herself with the radical opposition, which he referred to as the 'global war party.' However, things took a turn for the worse after Georgia failed to secure EU candidacy status in 2022. The President openly criticized the Government for this, as she saw it as a crucial opportunity to break away from Russian influence.

During her Annual Report at the Parliament, she strongly criticized the ruling party for shifting from being a leader in EU integration among the Associated Trio countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova) to becoming a troublemaker. She became a vocal advocate for intensifying efforts to achieve the primary foreign policy goal of the country, as outlined in the constitution (an amendment made by GD in 2017).

Later, Zourabichvili expressed strong support for the March 7-9 protest rallies against a Russian-style draft bill on "Foreign Agents" and gave an interview to the oppositional media outlet TV Pirveli. During the interview, she once again blamed the Government and the ruling party for their attempts to undermine the country's chances of transforming its EU perspective into an actual instrument that could lead to EU membership and an enlargement of the organization to the east in the South Caucasus. She also noted that the only minister with whom she had no communication was PM Irakli Garibashvili, and she couldn't explain why.

Pro-governmental media and experts gradually launched an anti-Zourabichvili campaign, labeling her as a 'Resident-President' due to her French affiliation. This shift came after their strong support for her during the 2018 Presidential elections, which featured arguably one of the worst election campaigns from both sides since 2012. The confrontation between the President and the ruling party peaked after Zourabichvili's decision to pardon Nika Gvaramia, the manager of an oppositional TV channel, Mtavari Arkhi. 

The situation reached a point where the damaged relationship could not be repaired. This was not the first time that the ruling party and a president they supported had gone in different directions; a similar situation had occurred with Giorgi Margvelashvili, particularly during Garibashvili’s first term as Prime Minister. In a press conference on September 1, where he announced GD's decision to initiate the impeachment procedure, Kobakhidze recalled that incident and highlighted it as the main reason for including government approval in the presidential business trips to foreign countries in the constitutional amendments during 2017.

Kobakhidze explained that the reason for initiating impeachment procedures was President Zourabichvili's alleged violation of Article 52 of the Constitution of Georgia. On August 30, the President's Administration announced her plans to visit Germany and Belgium (Brussels) to launch a campaign advocating for Georgia's candidacy status. Shortly after this announcement, the Government's Administration issued a statement officially denying the President's travel plans, which included visits to Ukraine, the Swiss Confederation, Poland, Denmark, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates. The statement did not offer further explanations for the denial.

Immediately following these statements, leaders of the ruling party began criticizing Zourabichvili. On August 31, Kobakhidze stated that the President's decision would not go unanswered. The public was informed the next day that impeachment proceedings were being planned, with the explanation that her actions were intended to harm Georgia's European prospects as Zourabichvili had previously expressed the belief that the Government did not deserve the status, whereas the society did. Kobakhidze further elaborated, emphasizing that the society had elected the Government, and she evidently had doubts about Georgia's worthiness for the status. While it would be illogical to assert that Russia directly influenced this decision, there was a curious coincidence: the decision followed a comment by former President of Russia and current Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev. In his interview with RT News, Medvedev praised the Government of Georgia for its pragmatism while also referring to Zourabichvili as the French President of Georgia who was against the country's economic development.

As of now, Zourabichvili has not made any comments regarding the impeachment. However, after the news was released, she posted a photo on her official Instagram page. Meanwhile, she held meetings with her German counterpart and the President of the European Council, where she emphasized the importance of granting candidate status to Georgia.

The impeachment procedures follow a clear process: 50 MPs initiate it, after which it is sent to the Constitutional Court for further discussions and a decision on whether it follows constitutional law, a process that takes one month. Subsequently, 100 MPs must vote for impeachment during a plenary session of Parliament within two weeks. There are two main issues at play here: first, from a technical standpoint, the majority in Parliament comprises only 84 members, plus 4 MPs from the GD proxy, European Socialists, totalling 88, which is insufficient for impeachment. Meanwhile, opposition parties such as Lelo and Girchi have already announced that they will not participate in this process, as they believe the President acted in accordance with the constitution, which states in Article 78: "The constitutional bodies shall take all measures within the scope of their competences to ensure the full integration of Georgia into the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization." As for the United National Movement, they issued a statement, saying that they will not participate in the dirty games of the ruling party and will not use it as a leverage to release former president Mikheil Saakashvili, but they will continue pressuring her within the constitutional rules. 

The second and more significant point is that during this period, it is highly likely that the European Union will make a decision regarding Georgia's candidacy. Initiating the impeachment process against the President appears to be another attempt by the ruling party to undermine this process. Olivér Várhelyi, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, explained to EURACTIV that EU enlargement by 2030 is achievable, and the European Commission intends to present "significant proposals" in October, but this will depend on both the candidates and the bloc itself "intensifying their efforts." While impeachment is an internal political matter, it's essential to consider the motive behind the process. The driving force behind this decision is the President's commitment to promoting Georgia as a potential European Union member. How this message will be received within EU institutions remains uncertain. If Georgia fails to secure candidacy consecutively, it could lead to a deeper political crisis in the country.

Members of the European Parliament have already expressed their views on this matter. For example, MEP Markétka Gregorová expressed shock at the decision and its timing, given that President Zourabichvili is engaged in meetings with European leaders. MEP Miriam Lexmann characterized the ruling party of Georgia's decision as an absurd step, emphasizing that it once again demonstrates GD's lack of interest in the country's European future. These statements should serve as a warning for Kobakhidze and his colleagues if they genuinely intend to integrate Georgia into the EU, rather than making it a mere formality.

In the midst of rising political tensions, Georgia finds itself at a critical crossroads. The controversial move to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Zourabichvili, just as she champions Georgia's bid for European Union membership, raises serious questions about the ruling party's commitment to the nation's European future.

As European officials express optimism about potential EU enlargement by 2030, internal political turmoil threatens to undermine these ambitions. Criticism from members of the European Parliament underscores the need for political stability and dedication to European integration.