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, 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. 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.

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