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Georgian Opposition Wants Saakashvili Barred From Becoming Prime Minister

Representatives of Georgia's opposition Labor Party met on June 21 in Tbilisi with Avtandil Demetrashvili, chairman of the commission that drafted Georgia's proposed new constitution, but failed to persuade him to accept their alternative provision that would bar incumbent President Mikhail Saakashvili from assuming the post of prime minister after his second term expires in 2013.

Conservative Party leader Zviad Dzidziguri expressed support for the Labor initiative, the daily "Akhali taoba" reported on June 22. But Demetrashvili rejected any such restriction as discriminatory and undemocratic, Caucasus Press reported.

Under the new draft constitution many of the powers currently vested in the presidency devolve on to the prime minister, who is selected by whichever party wins the most parliament mandates. Some observers immediately voiced concern that that arrangement would permit Saakashvili to assume the premiership after his second term expired, just as former Russian President Vladimir Putin did two years ago following the election of Dmitry Medvedev to succeed him.

Saakashvili addressed those fears on June 12, insisting that "my goal is not to keep myself or any of my allies in politics." He further vowed that "we shall never become a Bantustan where the constitution and laws are tailored to fit specific persons." "The democratic model that will be created in Georgia will be democratic, European, and the best one [possible]," Saakashvili said.

Meanwhile Vakhtang Khmaladze, one of Georgia's most experienced and respected experts on election and constitutional law, has highlighted what he considers disturbing and unsatisfactory aspects of the new draft constitution. Those criticisms, and Demetrashvili's rebuttals, were enumerated at length last week on the website Caucasus Knot.

Khmaladze argued that the existing constitution is far more likely to lead to the "Putinization" of Georgia than is the new draft. At the same time, Khmaladze pointed out that even though at first glance it appears that the new draft concentrates power in the hands of the prime minister, in fact the president retains enough power for Georgia to qualify as a "super-presidential republic."

In that context, he points to the provision that in the event of a parliamentary vote of no confidence in the government, the president must choose between dismissing the government or dissolving parliament. That arrangement could, Khmaladze said, deter the parliament from voting no confidence in the government; in that respect, it undermines the stated aim of enhancing parliamentary control over the government.

Demetrashvili explained that this resulted from a desire to avoid over-empowering the parliament. He said that the judiciary will be empowered to rule on the legality of government decisions.

Khmaladze pointed out that the president will be empowered to convene, and chair, an emergency government session at which the government is bound to adopt a specific course of action. But because the new draft does not specify under what circumstances the president may resort to this procedure, the president could abuse that right by convening such sessions "almost daily."

Khmaladze said he thinks a further provision should be incorporated into the new draft constitution that would require the parliamentary majority to seek ways of cooperating with the opposition. He said such a provision is essential in countries like Georgia "that are only just embarking on building democracy."

Khmaladze singled out as a major omission from the draft the failure to define the system of territorial administrative division and local government. Demetrashvili explained that omission in terms of the ambiguous status of the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He said that once that problem is "positively solved," meaning once Georgia succeeds in bringing the two regions back under its jurisdiction, "we shan't be able to manage without some elements of federalism in our relations with them."

But, Demetrashvili continued, "federalism is hardly possible with regard to the rest of Georgia." That latter formulation represents a retreat from the system he outlined in an interview with Caucasus Knot last fall, in which he envisaged an asymmetric federation in which the level of autonomy and self-government individual regions enjoyed would depend on the size of their population.

The new draft constitution was amended and submitted to the Council of Europe's Venice commission for a secondary review on June 10. The parliament will resume discussion of it during the fall session, parliament speaker Davit Bakradze told the TV channel Imedi on June 19.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.