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10.01.2010

Georgia's constitutional amendments move forward

Georgia’s parliament votes today on the second reading of proposed constitutional amendments that will reduce presidential powers and increase the power of the prime minister as well as those of the parliament. The president, however, will remain directly elected, and will have some role in oversight. Several years ago, constitutional amendments were criticized for concentrating too much power in the hands of the president; this seems to shift the formal balance back. Some argue that President Saakashvili is laying the groundwork for moving to the office of Prime Minister once his presidential term expires, an odd echo of his nemesis Vladimir Putin.

Among the proposed changes: parliament has greater ability to overcome a presidential veto of law. Only an absolute majority will be required, as opposed to 60% of members previously. So this amounts to a strengthening of the parliament and weakening of the president.

The president does get some new competences but generally is weaker. He gains the general power of legislative initiative; previously it was restricted to certain “exclusive cases.” The president is now clearly the commander in chief (Art. 69). But the president can no longer dismiss certain ministers directly (Art. 73(c)); loses the power to approve the budget (Arts. 73(e); 93; and the ability to make law by decree when parliament is not in session (73(q)). To compensate for the lack of budget power, he is given a guarantee of non reduction of the budget without his consent (Art. 74). The scope of presidential decrees (Art. 73(f)) is clarified so that it is clear these are related to implementation of law and not a kind of general lawmaking power. This is less authority than some presidents in semi-presidential systems, who have an independent lawmaking power in certain domains.

The president also loses a good deal of power in government formation and appointment of ministers (Art 78; 80(2)).There is no discretion, or at least very little, in having to nominate for prime minister the person proposed by the best performing party in the elections. In this sense the president looks a lot like a parliamentary monarch, without real power here, though Saakashvili and others have rejected the comparison. So the overall sense is to strengthen the government and parliament. Should the changes pass, they will take effect from 2013.

-TG

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