Those preliminary criticisms, made public two months ago, focus on the risk of a direct standoff between the president and the parliament; the procedure for a parliament vote of no confidence in the government; and the proposed abolition of the category of "organic laws" that require a three-fifths or two-thirds majority vote.
The Venice Commission expressed guarded approval of the redistribution to the government of some powers hitherto vested in the president, but implied that these changes did not go far enough. It noted that "the president plays a political role, which is not coherent with the role of impartial guarantor of the constitutional order of the state and its continuity. In addition, the president "still retains important powers" with regard to international relations, the armed forces, and during a parliament move to vote no confidence in the government.
The president retains the right in the wake of such a no-confidence vote to reject the parliament's proposed new candidate for prime minister. If the parliament fails to override the presidential veto, the president may choose to dissolve parliament and call new elections. The commission deemed that provision "not compatible" with a constructive vote of no confidence.
Saakashvili took issue with those comments, countering forcefully that "Georgia faces difficult challenges and there should be a strong president.... We should understand that without a strong president, especially in crisis situations, it will be difficult to govern Georgia. So in this regard we cannot fully accept European experts' recommendations."
During the same meeting on September 3, Saakashvili said he had no intention of calling a referendum in which voters would be asked whether the existing constitution should be amended to enable him to serve a third consecutive presidential term. Saakashvili's critics are convinced that the constitutional amendments under discussion are designed specifically to enable him to remain in power as prime minister after his current (second) term expires in January 2013.
A Venice Commission delegation is due to arrive in Georgia on September 16 to take part in the ongoing discussion of the amendments, which must be approved by two-thirds of all parliament deputies.