Saakashvili lambastes opinion to cut president's power
07 September, 2010
Saakashvili lambastes opinion to cut president's power

As constitutional amendments are brewing in the Parliament and the proposed draft is provided for public debates, the President of Georgia rebuked foreign expertise and stressed on the importance of retaining the head of state's strong role in the new constitutional model, insisting he has no wish 'to sit in Avlabari Residence and receive foreign delegations from time to time'.

Delivering a speech to lawmakers from his ruling National Movement party last Friday, President Saakashvili boldly reprimanded the recommendation to cut the president's power in the new constitutional model. A shake-up of powers and weakening of the presidential authority is not befitting and appropriate for the Georgian statehood due to specifics of the country, according to Saakashvili.

The drafts for the new constitution have drawn a barrage of criticism from opposition groups who insist that Saakashvili is paving a road to third-term presidency while leaving the legislative body, the Georgian Parliament, powerless and with little control over the day-to-day running of the country. Others persist that Saakashvili is aiming to become the Prime-minister who will possess significantly more leverage under the proposed constitutional amendments.

Under the current constitution it is prohibited for a person to serve as head of state more than two times. In his speech Saakashvili pledged he has no intentions to call a referendum seeking for voters' consent to run for presidency for a third term. Nonetheless, he insinuated that there would be no problem garnering public support for his re-election.

Responding to the allegations of his critics, President Saakashvili noted that his rebuttal of crippling the presidential powers in the new constitution is not an attempt at preserving personal powers. "I categorically disagree with the Venice Commission - which in overall likes the new draft - to weaken the President and equal this post to the one that is in many European countries, for example Presidents of Italy or Germany, where the Presidents have symbolic role," President Saakashvili said. "Georgia faces difficult challenges and there should be a strong President in Georgia... We should understand that without a strong President, especially in the crisis situations, it will be difficult to rule Georgia.  So in this regard we cannot accept European experts' recommendations fully," he added.

Saakashvili was referring to the stipulati

ons made in the preliminary opinion of the Venice Commission, Council of Europe's advisory body for legal affairs, which was requested in late July by the Georgian government to provide expertise on the draft constitutional amendments.

The preliminary opinion released by the Venice Commission states that the constitutional reform which is pending in Georgia aims to move from a 'rather presidential system of government to a mixed system where the executive power is in the hands of the government which is accountable to the parliament'. The amendments also envisage the President losing his role of leader of foreign and domestic policy and taking on a role of 'a neutral arbitrator between the state institutions'.

However, notwithstanding the enlargement of the powers of the Government, the President retains important powers especially in the field of the international relations, the armed forces and the situations of emergency. Due to these retained powers the unity of the State and the correct functioning of the constitutional institutions are under jeopardy, according to the Venice Commission's opinion, since the President is in the position of establishing a direct relation with the Parliament bypassing the government.

The preliminary opinion also criticized a provision of the draft constitution which provides the president with the power to dissolve the parliament within three days and call for early elections if the parliament fails to override presidential veto on prime ministerial nomination. According to the Venice Commission, 'the power of the President to dissolve parliament at this stage is not compatible with the constructive vote of non-confidence and should be removed'.

The concluding chapter of the preliminary opinion reads that 'the proposed constitutional amendments provide for several important improvements and significant steps in the good direction' and that 'the Venice Commission remains at the disposal of the State Constitutional Commission and of the Georgian authorities for further assistance'. The Venice Commission is expected to release its final opinion on the constitutional reform next week, followed by a visit of the delegation to Georgia to discuss recommendations with the Georgian authorities.