The public review process of the amendments aimed at reducing the power of the prime minister that he will assume after the presidential elections scheduled for October 27 commenced this week, bringing together MPs, politicians, civil society and media experts, as well as academics and legal experts.
The ruling Georgian Dream coalition has already presented the amendments in parliament and on Friday the public review process started. According to Georgian legislation, in order to adopt constitutional amendments it is necessary to hold a series of public reviews in different places and present all the remarks to the parliament, which then will discuss what ideas shaped during the public reviews process to reflect in the constitution. The process will take a month and then parliament will start reviewing the amendments.
The bill concerns amendments passed by the former ruling party in 2010, which come into force after the presidential election in October. The new Constitution hands almost all power until then held by the president to the prime minister after the 2013 fall elections.
It was thought that after the elections in 2013, which will mark the end of President Mikheil Saakashvili’s second and last presidential term, he might simply switch chairs from president to prime minister and retain his power, as it was difficult to envisage that time that any opposition force might challenge the United National Movement’s grip on power.
According to the UNM’s changes, the prime minister becomes head of the executive branch instead of the president. The new constitution renders the prime minister completely independent and it is almost impossible to impeach him. The prime minister won’t need the agreement of parliament to change members of government, while under today’s rules, if one third of government members are changed, parliament must declare trust in them through a ballot.
As the UNM party was defeated by the Georgian Dream coalition in October 2012, the new constitution proved to be a windfall in the hands of the new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili. However, coalition representatives claim they will amend the constitution again to create more balance and reduce the power of the prime minister before the UNM amendments will come to force.
The GD coalition suggested five amendments to the constitution. Two of them, to decrease the threshold to override a presidential veto from three quarters to two thirds and, especially, to adopt changes to the constitution, invoke the most criticsm from the opposition UNM. According to the current constitution, those two moves need the votes of two thirds of all members of parliament, while in the new constitution, which comes into force after the October election, this number increases to three quarters.
Although the UNM currently hold more than a third of the seats, the embattled former ruling party is afraid of its members switching sides or leaving the party as there was one case of in the Tbilisi city council, according to them, due to heavy political pressure from the ruling GD coalition.
Another change suggested by the coalition implies to leave in force another clause from the current edition of the constitution, which requires a vote of no confidence from parliament if at least a third of government members are changed.
There will also be a new section in the constitution about how to deal with the process of approving a budget, that gives parliament two more months to work out next year’s budget before it leads to the dismissal of the government and potentially a new election. Under the current revised constitution, the president has a right to dismiss the government and dissolve parliament if a budget is not confirmed by the end of the year.
Georgian Dream wants to extend this deadline two months into the budget year. If that happens, and the country lacks a budget, the previous year’s budget will be followed for those two months. If that deadline is not met, it will not mean that the president immediately gets the power to dismiss the parliament, as today with the year’s end deadline. Instead, the failure to pass a budget by the deadline will automatically be considered a declaration of distrust towards the government, and it must step down.
But if the parliament then is unable to form a new government, the president will get the power to dismiss parliament and announce a new election.
The fifth, and last, amendment proposed by the GD coalition lifts a restriction for persons with multiple citizenship, Georgian and another state’s, to hold posts of the president, the prime minister and speaker of parliament.