Procedures have been launched for Georgian Dream-proposed draft of constitutional amendment under which President Saakashvili retains all of his current powers, except of the one which allows him to appoint new government even if the Parliament refuses to confirm President-nominated cabinet.
Parliament voted on December 28 to establish a special group, which will lead one-month long public discussions on the proposed draft – a formal procedure required for any constitutional amendment after which a draft becomes eligible for the parliamentary vote.
108 lawmakers voted in favor of setting up this special group, which means that lawmakers from President Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) party have also supported the launch of procedures. UNM MP Levan Bezhashvili said that although there might be some issues about the proposal that require clarifications, in overall an agreement was possible.
Previously the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition was mulling over possible constitutional changes to significantly cut presidential powers; but as Parliamentary Chairman Davit Usupashvili said on December 28 this plan had been dropped and instead a new proposal tabled. He said that before unveiling the new proposal, GD consulted in advance with UNM lawmakers.
Currently the President has the right to dismiss the government and propose new PM and cabinet for confirmation to the Parliament.
If the Parliament refuses to confirm new cabinet for three times, the President then has the right to dissolve the legislative body and appoint new government without Parliament’s approval.
But the constitution also says that the President has no right to dissolve the Parliament within six months after the parliamentary elections, which were held in October 2012 and prior six months to presidential elections, which is scheduled for October 2013.
But despite of this restriction, which sets timeframes when the President has the right to dissolve the Parliament, if the President decides to sack the cabinet he will still be able to do so and to appoint his cabinet without dissolving the Parliament and in such case President-appointed government will be able to take office and new elections will be held under President-appointed government after the expiration of six months since the recent elections.
Usupashvili said that this existing system was causing sense of instability, especially after President Saakashvili’s recent rhetoric, who has stepped up criticism of the new government. Usupashvili suggested that this rhetoric had triggered speculation and perception recently that the President might one day resort to his right and sack the government, which under the existing situation would possibly trigger the crisis.
President Saakashvili said at a news conference on December 20 that he had no intention whatsoever to sack the government.
In order to provide institutional guarantees that will prevent a political crisis, Usupashvili said, the Georgian Dream has offered constitutional amendments.
Under the proposal, Usupashvili said, there will be no reduction of presidential powers, except of one area – if the President decides to sack the government and the Parliament refuses to confirm President-nominated cabinet, he will be able to also dissolve the Parliament, but the President won’t be able to appoint his government before the election of the new Parliament; the proposal will also envisage removing six-month restriction in which the President has no right to dissolve the Parliament.
It means that if Saakashvili decides to sack PM Ivanishvili’s government the latter will still be able to remain in office together with his cabinet members as acting government before the new Parliament is elected.
This is the second draft of constitutional amendment proposed by the Georgian Dream. The first one, if approved, will lead to relocation of the Parliament from Georgia’s second-largest town of Kutaisi back to capital Tbilisi – something that is strongly opposed by President Saakashvili.
Although Georgian Dream has enough votes in the Parliament to override a presidential veto, it currently still falls short of constitutional majority.