The Georgian authorities appear determined to enact as swiftly as possible constitutional amendments that many opposition politicians are convinced are designed to prolong Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's hold on power after his second term expires in January 2013.
Public discussion of the draft amendments will end on September 10, despite calls last week by the Georgian Young Lawyers Association and the NGO Transparency International-Georgia to extend the debate, Caucasus Press reported on August 25 and August 30. Parliament speaker David Bakradze said on August 24
that the parliament will begin debating the draft next month and probably put it to a vote in late October or early November.
Ten Georgian opposition parties from across the political spectrum released an open letter last month
appealing to the authorities to postpone amending the constitution until after the parliamentary elections due in 2012. But Saakashvili rejected that demand
The controversy over the amendments centers on the proposed redistribution of competencies
between the president, the prime minister, and the parliament, which transfers to the prime minister many powers currently vested in the president. That arrangement has been widely construed in Tbilisi as empowering Saakashvili to follow the "Putin scenario" and retain power as prime minister, as outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin did two years ago.
In an interview he gave to the Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy on August 26, Saakashvili again sought to allay those opposition suspicions. Saakashvili did not explicitly deny that he aspires to the post of prime minister. But he did insist that the amendments will create "a European model" that will preclude either himself or anyone else ruling single-handedly. He said in that context that there will be "no single center of power."
He said he wants the opposition to be integrated into the political system and "more people to become stakeholders in the process of governing." He said he also wants the parliament "to acquire more powers and to take more control over the executive branch."
Experts continue, however, to highlight perceived shortcomings and hazards inherent in the draft amendments.
Vakhtang Khmaladze, one of the authors of Georgia's 1995 constitution, first enumerated his concerns
about the draft amendments to Caucasus Knot two months ago. Last week, Khmaladze highlighted further potential hazards -- in particular, the fact that the amendments render a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in the government far more complicated and protracted than it currently is. The president can drag out the no-confidence vote for 131 days. If during that period support for the motion erodes to less than a majority of parliamentarians, the legislature must dissolve itself
Khmaladze also expressed concern at the abolition of the concept of an "organic law" that requires the votes of 3/5 or 2/3 of all parliamentarians to pass. Instead, any law could be passed with just 51 votes in favor (one-third of the total number of parliamentarians, plus one). In that respect, Khmaladze argued, the amendments render the presence of the opposition in parliament "senseless."
Lawyer Lia Mukhashavria, for her part, argued that executive power will be concentrated in the hands of the prime minister as cabinet head, with the ministers serving simply as "a council of assistants." She also adduced the circumstance that the amendments go into effect only after the 2013 presidential election as evidence that they are indeed intended to enable Saakashvili to retain power.
Not all opposition politicians subscribe to that view, however.
Paata Zakareishvili was quoted on August 30 by the weekly "Mteli kvira" as suggesting that the intended beneficiary and future prime minister is current Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, Caucasus Press reports. Merabishvili has long been regarded as the second-most-powerful politician in Georgia after Saakashvili.