Wednesday July 17, 2024

Georgia president vetoes controversial law

May 19, 2024
Demonstrators protest against a bill on foreign agents in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 14, 2024  — Reuters
Demonstrators protest against a bill on 'foreign agents' in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 14, 2024 — Reuters

TBILISI: Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili on Saturday put a mostly symbolic veto on the “foreign influence” law that sparked unprecedented protests and warnings from Brussels that the measure would undermine Tbilisi’s European aspirations.

Ruling Georgian Dream party lawmakers voted through the legislation this week in defiance of protesters, who are worried the ex-Soviet republic is shifting away from a pro-Western course back toward Russia.

The move has sparked a wave of protests unprecedented in the recent history of the Black Sea nation, where according to opinion polls more than 80 percent of the population wants to join the European Union and NATO, and is staunchly anti-Kremlin.

“Today I set a veto... on the law, which is Russian in its essence, and which contradicts our constitution,” she said in a televised statement, speaking about the bill that critics describe as resembling Russian legislation used to silence dissent.

Brussels has said the measure is “incompatible” with Georgia’s bid for EU membership, which is enshrined in the country’s constitution.

Georgian Dream has enough lawmakers in parliament to override her veto.

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze has signalled his party’s readiness to consider Zurabishvili’s proposed amendments to the law, should she lay them out in her veto document.

But figurehead president Zurabishvili -- at loggerheads with the ruling party -- has ruled out the prospect of entering “false, artificial, misleading negotiations” with Georgian Dream.

The bill requires NGOs and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as bodies “pursuing the interests of a foreign power”. Georgian Dream insists it is committed to joining the EU, and portrays the bill as aimed at increasing the transparency of NGO funding.