09TBILISI357, GEORGIA: REFERENDUM PROCESS AN UPHILL CLIMB

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI357 2009-02-23 14:25 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO0530
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0357/01 0541425
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 231425Z FEB 09     (ZDK) DUE TO MANY SERVICES
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1022
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 000357 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/25/2018 
TAGS: PGOV PREL GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: REFERENDUM PROCESS AN UPHILL CLIMB 
 
Classified By: CHARGE D'AFFAIRES A.I. KENT LOGSDON FOR REASONS 1.4 (b) 
AND (d) 
 
1. (SBU)  Summary:  Opposition leaders outside of Parliament, 
led by Irakli Alasania, have begun discussing publicly the 
idea of a public vote either calling for new presidential 
elections or a referendum to change existing constitutional 
procedures for calling new elections. Current Georgian law 
allows either Parliament or an individual to initiate a call 
for a referendum or a plebiscite, the difference being that 
the latter is non-binding.  Parliament can demand a 
referendum with a majority vote (unlikely given the ruling 
party's overwhelming majority).  A private citizen or 
organization, once certified by the Central Election 
Committee (CEC), is required by law to collect 200,000 
eligible voters' signatures within four months; 200,000 
signatures amounts to roughly 10 percent of the electorate. 
In either case, if the requirements are met, the measure goes 
to the President for consideration, and he may then decide 
whether or not to accept the demand, subject to a number of 
technical and legal exclusions, and schedule the referendum. 
If the referendum passes with 50 percent of the vote cast, it 
becomes law after the vote is certified.  End Summary. 
 
2.  (C)  Embassy Comment:  The likelihood that the opposition 
(or an NGO) can effectively use the referendum process to 
compel new elections is minimal.  The referendum process 
contains many logistical, procedural, and legal hurdles to 
overcome.  It is unclear whether the opposition would be able 
to garner anywhere near the 200,000 signatures needed to push 
the process forward.  Doing so would require a high level of 
coordination, funding, and cooperation among the various 
groups that has thus far been lacking.  Simply put, President 
Saakashvili appears only to need to articulate a 
well-grounded reason to refuse to go forward with a 
referendum if formally presented to him.  Nevertheless, if 
the opposition can organize and collect a significant amount 
of signatures, the calls for new elections may intensify. 
End Comment. 
 
Referendum Process 
 
3.  (SBU)  Georgian law allows an individual to initiate a 
call for a referendum (binding) or a plebiscite (non 
binding), but the process is the same.  To start the process, 
the individual or group of individuals must apply to the 
Central Election Committee (CEC) for approval to begin the 
collection of signatures.  The CEC makes sure the referendum 
question complies with Georgian law and is phrased in a yes 
or no question.  Certain exclusions apply: any referendum 
calling for the adoption or repeal of an amnesty or pardon; 
ratification or withdrawal from international treaties and 
agreements; any question which would restrict basic 
constitutional rights and freedoms of individuals are not 
proper questions to put to a referendum.  If the request for 
a referendum is denied by the CEC, the requesters have the 
right to appeal directly to the Georgian Supreme Court. 
 
4.  (SBU)  If the requester(s) does not accumulate at least 
200,000 valid signatures within four months, the request 
fails.  The question put through the referendum process is 
then barred from being subject to another referendum 
procedure for a period of one year.  If the signatures are 
collected, the CEC will review and adjudicate whether or not 
the signatures are valid for the purpose of a referendum 
(i.e. signatures correspond to registered voters, are 
legible, are not duplicates etc.).  If and when the CEC 
validates the results, it sends the question to the President 
Qvalidates the results, it sends the question to the President 
who then has one month to act.  The President can deny the 
call for a referendum based on a "well-grounded" refusal. 
Apart from those mentioned above, the President can choose to 
deny carrying out a referendum during times of martial law, 
or massive public disorders such as epidemics, armed 
rebellion, an ongoing coup, or ecological catastrophes.  If 
the President accepts, he must name a date for the nation 
wide vote between two and six months from the time he decides 
to put the referendum to vote.  The referendum process is 
governed by the CEC and would be administered in the same way 
as elections.  If passed with a majority of the vote cast, 
the referendum becomes law when the final results are 
certified. 
 
Lots of Hurdles 
 
5.  (C) Roughly 2-2.5 million Georgians are registered to 
vote which means any individual who wants to put a question 
to referendum will have four months to gather signatures of 
approximately 10 percent of Georgia's registered voters.  The 
organizational skills, infrastructure, necessary funding, and 
volunteers needed to conduct such an operation makes it 
unlikely that any opposition group or consortium of 
opposition groups would be able to accomplish such an 
ambitious goal.  Considering the most current public opinion 
 
TBILISI 00000357  002 OF 002 
 
 
polls show only about 20-25 percent of the electorate 
supporting new polls, the odds become even steeper to collect 
the requisite signatures.  If th
e signatures are collected, 
the CEC will need to verify them.  The CEC would run the 
names versus its voter lists which would be time consuming at 
a minimum and result in the potential disqualification of a 
number of signatures for various technical reasons.  As such, 
any group would likely have to collect well above the 200,000 
required signatures to ensure acceptance. 
 
6.  (C)  With no apparent timetable to force the CEC to act, 
any initial request could be stalled on any number of 
procedural and technical grounds.  (Embassy Note:  David 
Usupashvli (Republicans) tells us that 10-12 individual 
referendum petitions are currently pending in the CEC.  End 
Note).  Additionally, if the referendum conforms to the 
opposition demand for new Presidential elections, the result 
is a de facto impeachment proceeding which appears to 
infringe on the Parliament's sole right to impeach a 
President according to the Constitution.  Likewise, if 
parliamentary elections are subject to referendum, the 
question appears to infringe on Parliament's and the 
President's right to call new elections based on very 
specific Constitutional scenarios.  Additionally, if 
Saakashvili is subject to term limits, a majority of Georgian 
voters would have their votes annulled which also raises 
Constitutional questions.  At the very least, calls for 
either new presidential or parliamentary elections through 
the referendum process will raise some thorny legal issues. 
LOGSDON

Wikileaks

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