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Political cohabitation, Georgian style

By Messenger Staff
Friday, March 29
President Mikheil Saakashvili has signed the amendments to the Constitution that will limit the powers of the Georgian President. Agreement about the amendments was achieved after weeks of debates, consultations and confrontation. Some analysts have used this as evidence that political cohabitation in Georgia works.

After the parliamentary elections last October 1st, Georgian Dream came into power and formed a new government. However, the fact that the President is from the United National Movement (UNM) has created a rather strange and potentially awkward power-sharing arrangement. In fact it seems at times that Georgia has two political leaderships, the Prime Minister and the President.

It isn't only the President who is from the UNM. Most of the regional governments are UNM- dominated and the regional governors are UNM members. Moreover, the entire judicial system was created during the former government and supports the UNM.

The controversies don't end here. When exactly President Saakashvili's second term ends is also a controversial issue. The Georgian President's term is five years and thus Saakashvili's second term should have expired in January 2013. But he will remain in office until the Presidential elections in October, 2013. From a legal point of view, this is a violation.

In these circumstances, Georgian Dream refuses to start the process of impeachment of the President for different reasons. First of all, it does not have the minimum two-thirds majority in Parliament to begin impeachment proceedings. Secondly, both the Supreme and the Constitutional Court are controlled by the UNM and would rule such an action unconstitutional and illegal. Thirdly Georgia’s Western allies have strongly advised the current government not to forcibly remove President Saakashvili from office. Cohabitation seems to have been strongly recommended by Georgia's Western allies.

Cohabitation takes on different forms in different political spheres. In the regions the populace is not waiting for recommendations or advice but is putting direct pressure on local political bodies. UNM representatives are resigning, to be replaced by Georgian Dream representatives.

However it has been very hard for the Georgian Dream to gain any control over the judiciary. All judges have openly expressed their sympathy towards the UNM, as evidenced by the multiple court decisions in favor of UNM officials accused of violations. Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) also remains under UNM control.

The new challenge for Georgian Dream will be the UNM’s rally scheduled on April 19th, announced almost two month in advance. Much depends on this event: if the UNM manages to concentrate enough people in the street, it will demonstrate the party’s continuing power and importance. However, this is a risky gamble because if the UNM fails to gather enough supporters it will be deemed finished as a relevant political force by foreign observers and the Georgian public at large.

The most crucial period will be from April 21st to May 1st. In that ten day time period the President can dissolve Parliament and call snap parliamentary elections.

Again this is a risky gamble. The new constitutional amendments seem to be supported by a large percentage of the population-dissolving Parliament would be a very unpopular move. If snap parliamentary elections were to be held most analysts predict that the UNM would lose even more heavily than the last elections and might have less than 20 percent of the parliamentary seats.