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Georgian Parliament Majority Moves To Curtail President's Powers

The uneasy cohabitation of Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili (left) and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili (right) continues.
The uneasy cohabitation of Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili (left) and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili (right) continues.
The Georgian Dream (KO) coalition put forward on December 28 a proposed amendment to the Georgian Constitution drafted by its chairman, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili , that would render less likely the dismissal of the government and the dissolution of parliament.

At the same time, it has abandoned plans for more sweeping changes that would have transferred key powers from the president to the prime minister.

The ongoing standoff between Ivanishvili and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has given rise to fears among some that the latter may seek to provoke a political crisis by dismissing the prime minister and then deliberately nominating a new cabinet that is unacceptable to the parliamentary majority.

In the event that the legislature rejects three successive proposed new cabinets, the constitution currently empowers the president to dissolve parliament and impose a new cabinet without parliament's approval. But since the president may not dissolve parliament until six months after it is elected, he may appoint a new government without parliamentary approval; when the six-month period elapses, the parliament is dissolved and new parliamentary elections scheduled which the president's hand-picked cabinet organizes.

The proposed amendment would preserve the president's right to dissolve parliament in the event that it rejected his proposed ministerial candidates. The amendment also abolishes the "grace period" of six months from the date of the elections during which the president may not dissolve parliament.

But the president would lose the right to impose a new government without parliament's approval: he would be empowered to dissolve parliament after it rejected his proposed new cabinet, but the outgoing government would then remain in office until new parliamentary elections were held.

Parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili explained that the amendment was intended to provide institutional guarantees to prevent a political crisis. If passed, he said, the amendment would remove the "constant threat" that Saakashvili would dismiss the government, a threat that Usupashvili said was fueling political instability. And in light of last month's opinion poll conducted by the National Democratic Institute that showed a steep fall in the popularity of Saakashvili's United National Movement (ENM), there is no guarantee that it could defeat KO if new elections were held in the next few months.

A total of 108 deputies (including some from the ENM) voted on December 28 in favor of setting up a special group that will oversee a one-month public discussion of the proposed change, the second KO has proposed to the constitution since it came to power. The first, which President Saakashvili opposes, would relocate the parliament from the new building specially constructed for it in Kutaisi back to the capital.

Usupashvili also said KO has dropped earlier plans to change the constitution to slash the powers of the president. The party had toyed with the idea of making effective immediately constitutional amendments passed last year that transfer certain key powers from the president to the prime minister. Those changes are scheduled to go into effect after the presidential election due in October 2013.

Parliament Overrides Amnesty Veto

Meanwhile, the KO-dominated parliament has voted down by 91 votes to 24 Saakashvili's veto of an amnesty bill authorizing the release of some 3,000 prisoners, including 190 whom the parliament designated political prisoners, and reductions in the prison terms of thousands more. Saakashvili's stated rationale for the veto was that the beneficiaries would include several persons sentenced on charges of espionage for Russia, and others convicted in connection with a purported mutiny in May 2009 at the Mukhrovani military base.

Saakashvili also rejected the very term "political prisoner," arguing that it created the impression that Georgia combined the worst aspects of dictatorships in North Korea, Burma, and Belarus. He pointed out that "not a single serious international organization has ever said that there are political prisoners in Georgia."

In a televised address to the nation, Saakashvili slammed the parliament veto as "shameful," "dangerous," and "a disgraceful page in the history of Georgian parliamentarianism," and predicted that the release of such a large number of prisoners would result in a significant rise in the crime rate.

At the same time, one further dispute between Saakashvili and the government has been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties. The KO and ENM parliament factions have agreed that the Special State Protection Service will be subordinated to the government as KO proposed, but a separate unit will be established to provide security for the incumbent president and will be under his personal control. Saakashvili had publicly construed the removal of the service from his subordination as an attempt to strip him of any personal protection whatsoever.

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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