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Disagreement on constitutional changes

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, January 23
A discussion over the latest constitutional changes was followed by various remarks in front of journalists on January 22 at the Tbilisi Courtyard Marriott. The constitutional changes concern two issues: the removal the norm of specifying the parliament building’s whereabouts through the constitution and the restriction of specific presidential powers.

With regard to presidential powers, majority representative Vakhtang Khmaladze explains that the President enjoys “enormous power” and in the current political situation, such power creates the threat of a political crisis. He also pointed out that in none of the European countries the president has such unlimited power as he does in Georgia.

“We reserve the right of the president to dissolve the government if it is unacceptable to him. However, in the case where the parliament rejects the government suggested by him, the president’s new government will not be approved. As such, the president will then have the right to dissolve the parliament and appoint new parliamentary elections.

It is the people who should decide through elections who it is that will be in charge and lead the government,” Khmaladze said. Through the current legislation, the president does not have the authority to dissolve the parliament six months after the parliamentary elections and during the last six months of his being the president.

The parliament majority also thinks that parliament should be located in the capital of Tbilisi. According to vice-speaker Zviad Dzidziguri, interaction with government and the diplomatic corps is essential for the appropriate functioning of the parliament.

“The government, other state institutions and the diplomatic corps are situated in Tbilisi. The former government wanted the parliament to move to Kutaisi to avoid street rallies, as unsatisfied people gathered outside the parliament building. Former officials disguised the intention with the idea of regional development,” Dzidziguri said.

The parliamentary minority claim that the changes are a step backward and that they will not support the changes. Member of Parliament Akaki Bobokhidze states that if the parliament is not kept in Kutaisi, regional development will not be undertaken and Tbilisi will be too overcrowded in a very small period of time.

“During the discussions we did not hear any alternative plan from the coalition side how the regions might develop and how Tbilisi might be unloaded,” Bobokhidze told The Messenger.

Regarding the president’s rights, fellow representative of the UNM, Sergo Ratiani, emphasized that the coalition is trying to extend its power on branches that are not controlled by the victorious team.

During the meeting the majority responded to the minority concerning the alternate plan on regional development. According to MP, Zakaria Kutsnashvili, moving the parliament to Kutaisi will not ensure regional development.

“All Georgian regions are agricultural and we intend to develop this field, assist business and locals residents. The law on mountainous regions will be set in motion soon,” Kutsnashvili told The Messenger.

Remarks concerning the suggested changes were voiced by the Supreme Council of Justice and from the NGO sector.

Deputy Justice Minister Aleksandre Baramidze stated that the ministry agrees to the changes. However, the president should have the right to dissolve the parliament only in such cases that are foreseen through the constitution and not based on his own will.

The view is acceptable for the NGO sector as well. Nino Lomjaria executive director of The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) told The Messenger that the changes should regulate who will rule the country in the middle period, when the parliament is dissolved and when there are no results of the elections.

“I believe that information concerning the issue should be brought into the changes and in such a case the country should be ruled by the government that was completed by the party that won the elections,” Lomjaria said.

The Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association expressed their remarks concerning the changes and underscored that the suggested changes also create the risk of crisis and at the same time weakens the parliament.

“The main thing is the motivation. Changes should not be fitted on a concrete political situation, we need a systemic vision,” Vakhushti Menabde said, adding that the norm of the president’s inability to dissolve the parliament in six months period should be preserved.

Public discussion of the changes will go on in the Georgian regions over the month and the final version will be presented to the parliament for confirmation. In the case where two-thirds of the parliament supports the changes, they will come into force.