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Controversy Over New Georgian Draft Constitution Continues

Is Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili preparing to "do a Putin"?
Is Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili preparing to "do a Putin"?
Georgian opposition parties, legal experts, and NGOs are continuing their last-ditch battle to prevent the formal adoption by parliament of a new draft constitution formulated in such a way as to enable President Mikheil Saakashvili to retain supreme power as prime minister once his second presidential term expires in 2013.

Meanwhile, an opinion poll conducted by the U.S. National Democratic Institute found that only 26 percent of respondents support the prospect of Saakashvili becoming prime minister, while 32 percent are against it; almost half those polled (48 percent) favor retaining the current strong presidential system.

The new draft constitution is the brainchild of a commission established by Saakashvili last summer. Its members formally approved the draft on July 19 and submitted it on July 21 to the parliament, which published it for a one-month nationwide discussion. Experts from the Council of Europe's Venice Commission are due to arrive in Tbilisi on September 16-17 to review the draft, Caucasus Press reported on July 22.

But two members of the public commission that prepared an alternative draft constitution, Zakaria Kutsnashvili and respected legal expert Vakhtang Khmaladze, have both predicted that parliament will convene in emergency session to endorse the new draft on August 24, the anniversary of the adoption in 1995 of Georgia's first post-Soviet constitution.

'Doing A Putin'

The objections expressed with regard to the new draft constitution center on the clear divergence between the stated rationale for the proposed changes to the existing balance of power, and their anticipated real impact. President Saakashvili and Avtandil Demetrashvili, the chairman of the commission that drafted the new basic law, both claim that it is based on the "European model" and represents a clear transition from a presidential to parliamentary republic.

But opposition parties object that it simply transfers many of the powers currently vested in the president to the prime minister, who is chosen by the party with a majority in parliament. That provision would empower Saakashvili's United National Movement to propose him as prime minister.

In addition, the opposition points out, the new model would weaken the parliament, insofar as if the parliament proposes voting no confidence in the government, the president has the choice of dissolving the parliament rather than dismissing the cabinet.

Opposition Conservative Party co-leader Kakha Kukava dismissed the new draft as "the United National Movement's new statutes" and as "a Putin constitution," meaning that it would enable Saakashvili to emulate the former Russian president by simply assuming the post of prime minister, Caucasus Press reported on July 21. The alternative public constitutional commission has appealed to Saakashvili to recall the draft from parliament, according to Caucasus Press on July 23, while the opposition White Movement headed by Temur Shashiashvili issued a statement on July 26 demanding that the draft be put to a national referendum.

Neither request has much chance of success, however, nor is there any chance that the parliament, in which the United National Movement has 131 of the total 150 seats, will fail to approve the draft. In that respect, Saakashvili has, as the Russian daily "Kommersant" observed, "condemned himself to [continued] power."

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.


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