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.

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