President Saakashvili signed constitutional amendments into law in a televised ceremony on January 10 and said that the new law “is a step ahead towards constitutional stability.”
According to the amendments, which were passed by parliament on December 27, simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections will be held sometime between October and December 2008. It will be up to the President to announce the exact date of elections. The amendments will prolong the current Parliament’s term in office by at least six months and will also cut President Saakashvili’s first term in office by three to six months, depending on the exact date of the elections.
The President will no longer be the Chairman of the Justice Council – a body overseeing the judiciary system and the Chairman of the Supreme Court will instead serve as chair of the Justice Council, and the President will no longer have the right to appoint or sack judges, according to the amendments.
President Saakashvili said that these constitutional amendments cut the presidential powers and enhance the judiciary system.
“I want to emphasize that cutting of presidential powers occurred with an initiative of the President himself,” Saakashvili said in a televised address which was also attended by the Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze, Chairman of the Supreme Court Kote Kublashvili and some key parliamentarians from the ruling National Movement party.
Saakashvili said that setting simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections was mainly motivated by a desire to consolidate power both in the executive and legislative bodies under a single political force to prevent possible infighting between the state structures if power goes into different political forces.
“Fighting between state structures in a small country like [Georgia] will be a huge problem,” Saakashvili said.
Initially, in October 2006 when Saakashvili first announced the planned constitutional amendments to hold simultaneous elections, he cited desire to save time, energy and money, noting that “there is no need to hold elections once every year.”
Later, when the constitutional amendments were discussed by the Parliament, lawmakers from Saakashvili’s ruling National Movement party justified the change of election dates as a way to prevent potential interference by Russia in Georgia’s election process. The ruling majority said that there was “a serious risk” that Russia could manipulate the Georgian parliamentary elections (scheduled for spring 2008 before the new constitutional amendments went into force) for internal Russian consumption on the eve of its own presidential elections, scheduled for March 2008.
But on January 10 Saakashvili said that he never put these two reasons down as the major motives behind the decision to hold simultaneous parliamentary and presidential polls.
Opposition lawmakers have been critical of the initiative, as the move will prolong the sitting Parliament’s term in office by at least six months.
The Venice Commission – an advisory body of the Council of Europe on constitutional issues – said in a report on the amendments that political reasons were not sufficient to justify the prolongation of the mandate of a sitting parliament.
The Commission also said that the three-month period, from October 1 to December 31, in which the President has the right to appoint an exact date of elections, was “clearly excessive.”
But President Saakashvili said on January 10 that the Venice Commission’s opinion was “overall positive and supportive” towards the constitutional amendments.
Mikheil Saakashvili also said on January 10 that the current Georgian constitution is in need of “fundamental perfection” and added that the authorities are ready to set up a new constitutional commission which will “write a new constitution within few years.”
“The current constitution has numerous flaws and I think that we should write a new constitutional which will be in the line of a modern European country, which will continue those democratization processes that are already underway,” Saakashvili said.
He said that this process should be carried out in a dialogue between the political forces in Georgia.
“We will not impose this new constitution, nor even an idea about the new constitution, on society. We should work together to create a new constitution; this will be a long-term process which may take years,” Saakashvili said.
“This is our proposal and we are not going to further pursue this initiative if there is no broad consensus in society,” he added.