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Prospects of constitutional reform

By Messenger Staff
Friday, December 21
Since Georgia regained its independence in 1991 the government in power has altered the Constitution to suit its own needs. All three Georgian Presidents (Gamsakhurdia, Shevardnadze and Saakashvili) have tweaked and altered the constitution for their own designs.

The Georgian Dream government urgently wants to introduce certain amendments to the Georgian Constitution. Unlike previous administrations, however, Georgian Dream lacks a constitutional majority. Out of 150 parliamentary seats Georgian Dream has 83, short of the minimum two-thirds majority necessary to make constitutional changes.

The first major constitutional change the Georgian Dream government wishes to make is to repeal the clause (introduced by the previous administration) that the Georgian Parliament should reside in Kutaisi. Repealing this amendment and relocating Parliament back to Tbilisi would require the support of members of the opposition. Georgian Dream believes they can achieve this because a number of United National Movement (UNM) MP's have expressed dissatisfaction about parliamentary sessions occurring in Kutaisi.

There are other issues, however, where it is hard to imagine Georgian Dream and the UNM achieving consensus. These concern President Mikheil Saakashvili’s rights and how long he should remain in office.

Recently the issue of whether President Saakashvili should be able to exercise his right to dissolve Parliament has been hotly discussed. Technically, the President has the right to dissolve Parliament if Parliament rejects his proposed government three times. Once doing this he can call snap elections. However, he cannot dissolve Parliament earlier than six months after it has first convened. Since this Parliament took office in October 2012 the earliest President Saakashvili could dissolve it would be in April 2013.

By dissolving Parliament and calling snap elections Saakashvili would be gambling on Georgian Dream having lost a huge amount of popularity. Saakashvili would be hoping that the UNM could capitalize on this and regain a majority in Parliament. If they did Saakashvili could potentially become Prime Minister once his term as President expires in October 2013. However, as recent polling showed UNM is far from popular among a large portion of the Georgian electorate, whereas Georgian Dream has solid approval across society. Dissolving Parliament would be a hugely risky and potentially unpopular move for the President and could precipitate a political crisis.

The second issue is when exactly the President's term expires. Since the President's term lasts five years and he was elected in January 2008 technically his term of office expires in January 2013. However, yet another clause exists in the Constitution stipulates that presidential elections should always be held in October, which Saakashvili argues gives him another nine months in office.

Neither one of these issues is anywhere near being resolved. Meanwhile political games in Parliament are ongoing while the UNM plots how to regain power.