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Saakashvili's third coming

By Messenger Staff
Friday, June 11
Work on the draft constitution has come to the critical point of its final stage. Presumably it will be the subject of hot debates, not over its content but the consequences of implementing it.

The Venice Commission has given preliminary approval to the constitutional concept. What Georgians are concerned about however is whether the new constitution will enable President Saakashvili to stay in power for longer by becoming Prime Minister. The issue revolves around when the terms of the new constitution will come into force, as their application the day after the next Presidential election would clear the way for a Saakashvili premiership.

The English text presented to the Venice Commission differs from the Georgian text presented to the public, as it states that the new constitution will be valid from the day the official result of the next Presidential election is known. Some people call the discrepancy negligence, others wilful misrepresentation. Presumably a draft will be adopted before the end of the year but if it comes into force immediately this will mean that some of the President's powers will devolve to the PM after President Saakashvili’s term expires in 2013, implying he will be the most likely recipient of these enhanced Prime Ministerial powers. Some see this redistribution of power as normal, but we can say with assurance that the opposition will demand that the new constitution comes into effect as soon as it is approved by Parliament, thus obliging the Government to call new Presidential and Parliamentary elections.

Further speculation was fuelled by the straightforward answer President Saakashvili gave the journal Le Monde, in which he said that he has thought about becoming PM when he ceases to be President. Though he denied that this is exactly the same as what Vladimir Putin did in Russia, the opposition has started discussing the "Putinisation" of the country, devaluing the significance of the new constitution.

Interestingly the opposition support the country becoming a Parliamentary republic but do not want Saakashvili to be the Prime Minister of such a republic. Labour has said that a special article should be included in the constitution which would prevent a person elected President for two terms becoming PM. However the opposition might win the 2012 elections, and therefore win the right to nominate their own PM. It will be interesting to see of they still agree with any restriction on who they can nominate in these circumstances.

The Venice Commission's final opinion will be ready at the end of this month. However debates on the constitution are already underway in Georgia.