Parliament adopted constitutional amendment on presidential powers with its first hearing on March 21 with 135 votes – unanimously with the support of all the lawmakers, including those from UNM, present at the session.
UNM lawmakers voted for the proposed changes after GD agreed to at first held non-binding, test vote in which 93 lawmakers, seven short of required two-third majority, supported the amendment.
After more than three months of political wrangling between GD and UNM over the constitutional issue, which was the key point in talks over power-sharing arrangement to which some other important issues were also attached, breakthrough came after several hours of parliamentary discussions and last-minute behind-the-scenes consultations just before the vote late on Thursday evening.
There was little debate about the substance of the Georgian Dream-proposed draft of constitutional amendment during the parliamentary discussion on March 21.
The draft, which has yet to be approved with its second and third hearing, envisages depriving President Saakashvili of his right to sack sitting government and appoint new one without Parliament’s approval.
As the voting day in the Parliament drew near, how the proposed amendment should be voted became focus of the debates.
President Saakashvili’s UNM wanted to at first hold non-binding test vote.
During the parliamentary discussions on March 21 lawmakers from the UNM were insisting on holding test vote, citing that it was needed to demonstrate that without UNM’s support GD was not able to pass constitutional amendment, contrary to some GD lawmakers’ claims that they had 100 and even more votes, required for approval of a constitutional amendment. UNM MPs were saying that GD’s rhetoric that there were some lawmakers within the parliamentary minority ready to break UNM’s party line and act in their individual capacity in support of the constitutional amendment was “insulting”, which was not contributing to a decision-making process based on compromises.
On the substance of the proposed draft, UNM lawmakers argued that it was not an issue at all, because the President any way had no intention whatsoever to use this constitutional right and appoint the new government without Parliament’s approval. MP Davit Bakradze, the leader of UNM parliamentary minority group even said: “I do not see my place in the President’s team” if he uses this right and then added that there was no chance of the President applying this constitutional clause into practice.
“The worst thing that triggers my major concern is that we are failing to make step towards each other even when we agree on the substance,” MP Davit Bakradze said, adding that “there is one step between us, one small step” and that’s holding non-binding, test vote.
GD lawmakers were critical about holding of the test vote from the very point when UNM first announced about its proposal late on March 20.
Many of the GD lawmakers, who spoke during debates at the parliamentary session on March 21, argued that this call for test vote was President Saakashvili’s “whim”; some of GD MPs were calling on UNM lawmakers “to set yourselves free” from Saakashvili’s “influence” and others were telling them that Saakashvili became “a heavy burden” for UNM itself.
It’s discretion of the Parliamentary Chairman to take a decision whether to accept a motion for test vote or not.
During a break ahead of the vote, Parliamentary Chairman Davit Usupashvili was engaged in active consultations both with PM Bidzina Ivanishvili and UNM lawmakers.
Just before the vote, Usupashvili announced that he was accepting UNM’s motion for test vote, although made it clear that he saw no reason for such vote; he, however, stressed that he was taking such decision because of the GD’s commitment to help UNM to be part of the process.
“We, the new authorities, should give an opportunity to the representatives of the previous authorities to contribute to the development of parliamentary process and in overall development of the country. We should put an end to the practice in Georgia when former ruling political forces was vanishing from the political life after losing power – we will fail to achieve democracy if this practice continues,” Usupashvili said.
He said the debates showed that there was unanimous agreement in the Parliament about the substance of the proposed constitutional amendment, but there were differences on the form and how the process developed.
“From the very beginning it was the sincere desire of the Georgian Dream to make this constitutional amendment source of unity within the Parliament not reason for division,” Usupashvili said and added that this constitutional change was needed for the political stability in the country.
Usupashvili also said that it was up to the governing party to take responsibility on the situation in the country.
“We cannot respond to whims with whims,” he said.
He also said that during the last-minute consultations some “compromise proposals” were also tabled, but it was rejected by President Saakashvili; he did not elaborate. Usupashvili also said that he knew there might be different views among some GD lawmakers and called on them to accept the decision on holding test vote with “understanding.”
Earlier on March 21 PM Ivanishvili said that he saw no need in test vote and added that this proposal by the UNM was “not right”. Usupashvili stressed that he consulted with PM Ivanishvili before taking the decision on holding the test vote.
MP Davit Bakradze, the leader of UNM parliamentary minority group, welcomed Usupashvili’s announcement.
“I think this is a right decision, which will allow us to agree on the issue, which is important for the country… We achieved the decision which will be good not for us or good for you, but good for the country,” MP Bakradze said.