Ten Georgian opposition parties from across the political spectrum have released an open letter
appealing to the authorities to postpone the adoption of a new constitution until after the parliamentary elections due in 2012. They fear
the document, which curbs the powers of the president while augmenting those of the prime minister, has been tailored explicitly to enable President Mikheil Saakashvili to remain in power as prime minister after his presidential term expires in January 2013. But the Constitutional Commission formally approved the new constitution on July 19 by a vote of 44 in favor with three against. Speaking the same day in Kutaisi, Saakashvili acknowledged but rejected the opposition appeal for a delay in formally endorsing it.
The political parties campaigning for a postponement are the Christian Democratic Movement (the leader of the parliament minority bloc); the Conservative Party; the People's Party; the Republican Party; the Democratic Movement-Our Georgia; Georgia's Way; the Industrialists; the National Forum; the New Rightists; and Our Georgia-Free Democrats.
They proposed that the draft constitution should be approved by a new parliament that "enjoys a high level of voters' trust," an allusion to opposition perceptions
that the May 2008 parliamentary elections were rigged to secure an overwhelming majority for Saakashvili's United National Movement (EEM). They argued that rushing the draft through parliament would facilitate Saakashvili's imputed intention of maintaining his hold on power, and called instead for "lengthy" and "in-depth discussions" in which they affirmed their readiness to participate.
Saakashvili, however, countered that the existing parliament is fully authorized to pass the new draft which, he stressed, was based on the "European model" and has been welcomed by the Council of Europe. He did not mention that the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, the respected expert body that appraises draft legislation, has not yet made public its assessment.
In that context, Saakashvili pointed out that the EEM gained more votes in the May local elections than in the controversial parliamentary ballot in 2008. He compared the opposition demand for new elections with calling for a new soccer World Cup once every three months simply because Brazil failed to win. And he categorically ruled out
preterm elections, either parliamentary or presidential.
Saakashvili must now submit the new draft constitution to parliament, at which point it will be published for month-long public discussion. Parliament speaker Davit Bakradze told the television channel Imedi
last month that a "very active" debate on the draft will probably begin in the fall.
But Giorgi Gugava of the opposition Labor Party was quoted on July 20 by Caucasus Press as having told the daily "Akhali taoba" that his party plans large-scale public protests with the aim of thwarting parliamentary approval of the new basic law. The Labor Party unsuccessfully tried to have the new draft amended to include a provision banning a former president from subsequently holding the post of either prime minister or parliament speaker, according to Caucasus Press on June 21.