Category Archives: Georgia

Semi-Presidentialism in the Caucasus and Central Asia

Sophia Moestrup and I have edited a new volume called Semi-Presidentialism in the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

9781137387806

The book contains two chapters by Sophia and I. In the Introductory chapter we describe constitutional variation across the region and outline the basic research questions of the book: do institutions matter in post-Soviet countries? If so, do they matter for democratic performance? Whatever the answer, has the organization of the executive and executive-legislative relations had an impact on political life? In the Concluding chapter, ‘Weaker Presidents, Better Semi-Presidentialism’, we present a single policy recommendation: countries should adopt a constitution with a relatively weak presidency. All else equal, weak presidential institutions are likely to be more beneficial than super-presidencies. We argue that these benefits derive both from the intrinsic institutional incentives associated with such a system as well as the creation of environment in which the choice of a weak presidency is seen as being an attractive constitutional choice.

The book also contains a scene-setting chapter by Alex Baturo. This chapter provides an overview of similarities and differences between the political regimes that emerged in post-Soviet Eurasia, showing how “patronal” first secretaries under the Soviet Union became “patronal” presidents of their own nation-states after independence.

There are also four country case study chapters on semi-presidentiaism in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, as a well as a fifth case study of presidential Kazakhstan. These chapters look at the reasons for institutional choice in these countries, including Kazakhstan’s brief flirtation with semi-presidentialism in the early 1990s, as well as an assessment of the constitutional powers of the presidents in all of these countries, and an analysis of the reality of vertical power and political pluralism (or its absence) in practice.

More details can be found at the Palgrave website. Indeed, there are more details still, including chapter abstracts, from the Springer website.

Georgia – Parliament overturns one of the president’s two vetoes

Civil.ge is reporting that the parliament in Georgia has overturned one of President Saakashvili’s two recent vetoes.

On 23 April President Saakashvili vetoed two bills: a bill amending the code of criminal procedure and a bill reforming the High Council of Justice.

To overturn the president’s veto, parliament needed to muster a three-fifths majority, or 89 votes.

The report states that the veto concerning the High Council of Justice was overturned by 91 votes to 26. However, the veto concerning the code of criminal procedure was not overturned. The report states that there had been some disquiet within the ruling Georgia Dream majority over this bill. In the end, only 4 deputies voted to overturn the veto. So, the veto stands.

Regarding the High Council of Justice bill, this now returns to the president. If he does not sign it within 7 days, it becomes law. However, the president may submit the bill to the Constitutional Court in the meantime.

Georgia – PM’s party has a 6-1 poll lead over the president’s party

We have to be a little bit sceptical of opinion polls generally and especially of polls in countries where they are not taken very often. However, an NDI-sponsored poll in Georgia has produced a fairly remarkable result, though one which confirms a trend that was apparent in November.

The poll is reported here. It shows that support for PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgia Dream party is running at 60%, down just 3% from November 2012. By contrast, President Mikheil Saakashvili’s UNM party is recording just 10%, the same figure as in November. The margin of error is supposedly +/- 5%. For his part, PM Ivanishvili thinks that the UNM’s support is overestimated! For the record, 26% said they didn’t know, supported no party, or refused to answer.

The survey includes figures about how political figures are liked, who voters would like to see as president and so on. Uniformly, the figures are bad news for the UNM. This suggests that the current period of cohabitation will be ending later this year and that Georgia Dream will then hold all the reins of power.

Georgia – Reduction in presidential power

In Georgia the game of cohabitation cat and mouse between the ruling Georgia Dream party and the opposition UNM is becoming more and more bizarre.

Georgia Dream fear that the president will dismiss the government. In this event, because the presidential election is relatively close, the constitution would allow the president to appoint a government that does not need the support of parliament. Therefore, they fear that President Saakashvili will use his power to replace the current government with one of his own and that they will be powerless to stop him.

In this context, Georgia Dream proposed a constitutional amendment that would take away from the president the power to appoint a new government in the current circumstances, meaning that even if he did dismiss the government it would still remain in power until the presidential election. Confusing, isn’t it?

Anyway, the president’s UNM party opposed the amendment, saying that there was no need for it because the president had no intention of dismissing the government. Georgia Dream’s problem is that they need 100 votes to pass the constitutional amendment, but they have the support of only around 93 deputies.

This week, the amendment was coming up for debate in parliament. In a move that I have never come across before, the UNM leadership in parliament said that they wanted a ‘test vote’ prior to the vote on the bill proper. Basically, they wanted to demonstrate that the government did not have enough votes to pass the bill on its own and that, therefore, the bill would only pass because the UNM supported it. By this tactic, the UNM was trying to make sure that if they did vote for the bill and it did pass, then Georgia Dream could not claim that the bill would have passed anyway because sufficient UNM deputies had defected and allowed the bill to go through. Complicated, no?

Anyway, Civil.ge reports that the debate was held yesterday. Even though Georgia Dream had opposed the idea of a ‘test vote’, they allowed it. The vote showed that, indeed, they did not have enough support on their own to pass the amendment. There was then a proper vote on the bill. The UNM voted for the reform and it passed unanimously. Therefore, the UNM could claim that it was being responsible and that President Saakashvili was not opposed to a reduction in his powers. They also demonstrated that their support was needed for any future, and perhaps more controversial, constitutional amendments.

So, has there been an outbreak of consensus? The answer is no. Civil.ge reports that President Saakashvili made a televised address immediately after the vote. The language he used in the vote, likening the government to “Russian gangsters of 1990s”, did not sound consensual. So, Georgia’s conflictual cohabitation goes on.

As I understand it, this was the first vote on the constitutional amendments and two further votes are needed before it passes. It will be interesting to see whether the UNM will continue to support the reform.

Georgia – Tit-for-tat constitutional amendments

In Georgia, the current period of cohabitation is generating plenty of constitutional debate. So much so that there is talk of the government and opposition doing a deal and accepting each other’s amendments. The information is at Civil.ge.

The opposition wants a constitutional amendment to ensure that the country adopts a pro-Western foreign policy. I haven’t scoured the texts of other countries in this regard, but this would seem to me like an unusual clause to put in a constitution. That said, lots of constitutions have lists of rights, duties, privileges etc that are largely declaratory rather than easily justiciable. In addition, the opposition also wants to make it more difficult to amend the constitution in future, raising the necessary number of votes from two-thirds of parliament to three-quarters and implementing this reform immediately.

For its part, the government wants an amendment to reduce the president’s powers. I reported on this proposal previously.

The reports now suggest that opposition is willing to accept the government’s amendment in return for those of its own.

The opposition’s support is needed because the government is short of a two-thirds majority. In theory, it has the support of 89 deputies and 100 are needed for the constitution to be amended.

One interesting thing to bear in mind is that the constitution will be amended, the president’s power will be reduced and the threshold for amendments will be raised to three-quarters after the next presidential election in October. As reported previously, a major set of constitutional amendments was adopted in 2010, but they will only come into force later this year.

Georgia – Cohabitation

There is plenty going on in Georgia at the moment. The new period of cohabitation has started to become more conflictual. I have posted links to various items on the Facebook page, but here is a general summary.

On 25 December another opposition UNM deputy defected to the government’s side. Extrapolating from a Civil.Ge report, this now means that the government bloc is supported by 90 deputies. There are 150 deputies in total. So, this means that if all the non-UNM deputies vote together, then the government has a three-fifths majority, which is enough to overturn a presidential veto.

This arithmetic was immediately (and perhaps not coincidentally?) put to the test on 27 December when President Saakashvili announced that he was vetoing a government bill that would provide an amnesty for various prisoners. According to another Civil.Ge report, President Saakashvili objected to the idea that political prisoners were being released, declaring that there were none in Georgia.

On 28 December Civil.Ge then reported that parliament had voted by 91-24 to overturn President Saakashvili’s veto. This vote clearly sets a precedent. The president now knows that he cannot delay the majority’s legislation. This may actually encourage him not to veto legislation.

Almost immediately there was another development. On 28 December Civil.Ge reported that the government was planning to introduce a constitutional amendment. The situation is a little complicated but it seems to be designed to plug a loophole in the constitution.

Basically, Georgia still has a president-parliamentary system. So, President Saakashvili can dismiss the PM and government. The constitution states that if the new PM is not approved by parliament after three votes, then the president has to dissolve the legislature. However, the constitution also states that the legislature cannot be dissolved in the six months following a parliamentary election (which was held in October 2012) and in the six months prior to a presidential election (which is due to be held in October 2013). So, this raises the possibility that President Saakashvili could dismiss the government, appoint his own PM and government, and avoid having to face new parliamentary elections before the presidential election.

The government plans to plug this loophole by not allowing the president to appoint a government before the next election. So, even if President Saakashvili were to dismiss the current government, it would stay in office until that time.

The problem for the government is that it still needs about 9 or 10 more votes in parliament to amend the constitution. The government has announced that it has dropped plans to try to decrease the president’s powers generally. So, maybe this ‘concession’ will be enough to allow the proposed ‘procedural’ amendment to gain enough support to pass.

My guess Georgia is that there will be plenty of articles about cohabitation in Georgia in the coming years!

Georgia – Formation of yet another parliamentary group

Civil.ge is reporting the creating of a new parliamentary group in Georgia.

The article reports the creation of a Georgian Dream – Conservatives faction. This faction has six members, the minimum needed for a parliamentary group. Five come from the main Georgian Dream faction and, interestingly, one from the opposition UNM.

So, where are we in terms of parliamentary groups now? The parliamentary website shows four Georgian Dream factions: the main GD group (60 deputies), The GD – Free Democrats (10), the GD – Republicans (9), and now the GD – Conservatives (6). The are also three UNM factions: the main UNM group (45 deputies), the National Movement Majoritarians (7) and the National Movement Regionalists (6). In addition, there is a separate Independent group with 6 deputies.

The question is how autonomous are the factions within each block? My understanding is that the Free Democrats and the Republicans had a party political history prior to their alliance with the new Georgian Dream movement. So, they may wish to assert their autonomy at some point. However, my sense is that party identification is weak. If so, there is always the possibility of disaffected UNM deputies migrating to the independents or even GD, as happened with the formation of the new faction.

So, we have a two block system, plus a group of independents. The question is do we have a genuine multi-party system? Time will tell.

Georgia – When is a 5-year term not a 5-year term?

The period of cohabitation in Georgia is proceeding relatively smoothly. Inevitably, though, constitutional and institutional issues are being raised.

The amended constitution that weakens the power of the president and gives much more power to the PM will come into effect after the next presidential election. The new PM, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is reported as saying that he would like the changes to come into operation sooner. However, to change the constitution he needs 100 votes in the legislature and, currently, he has only 83. So, the status quo is likely to remain.

Another issue that has come up is the date of the next presidential election. Art. 70-1 of the constitution states that the president shall be elected “for a term of five years”. The last presidential election was held on 56 January 2008. So, the next election will be in January 2013. Right? Wrong. Art. 70-9 states “Regular elections for Presidency shall be held in October of the calendar year when the presidential authority expires”. Therefore, the next presidential election will take place in October 2013. Obviously, PM Ivanishvili would like it to happen earlier, but again he cannot force the issue.

What happened was that President Mikheil Saakashvili called a snap presidential election in December 2007. This followed a series of protests against his rule. To legitimise his action against the protesters, he called the election and was duly re-elected with 53% of the vote in January 2008.

Interestingly, the first version of the 1995 Georgian constitution stated that the first round of the presidential election would take place in April. However, in 2006 this was changed to October. I am not sure why this change was made. Perhaps it was always designed to give Saakashvili a little longer in power.

Anyway, the bottom line is that President Saakashvili’s 5-year term will last 5 years and 9 months.

Georgia – Another parliamentary fraction

In a previous post I cited  Civil.ge report showing that there were six parliamentary groups in Georgia. Three were allies in the newly majoritarian Georgia Dream electoral coalition and three were allies in the now opposition United National Movement electoral coalition.

Now, Civil.ge is reporting that a seventh parliamentary group has formed. It comprises six deputies, which is the minimum number for a parliamentary fraction. The deputies were elected as part of the UNM coalition, but decided not to sit with the full UNM group or to join the two other fractions that were allies in the UNM electoral coalition. Instead, they have now formed a separate group called the Non-Partisan, Independent Majoritarians.

So, we seem to have real pluralist coalition parliamentary politics in Georgia. This is a real change from the previous parliament where the UNM was so strong that it could change the constitution itself.

Cohabitation – Georgia

This is a series of posts that records the cases of cohabitation in countries with semi-presidential constitutions. Cohabitation is defined as the situation where the president and prime minister are from different parties and where the president’s party is not represented in the cabinet. Presidents classed as non-party cannot generate any periods of cohabitation.

Here is my list of cohabitations in Georgia:

October 2012-
President – Mikheil Saakashvili (UNM); PM – Bidzina Ivanishvili (GD); Coalition – GD, GD-FD, GD-R

Party abbreviations:

UNM (United National Movement)
GD (Georgian Dream)
GD-FD (Georgian Dream – Free Democrats)
GD-R (Georgian Dream -Republicans)