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What kind of state should Georgia be?

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, January 28
Georgia’s 18 years of experience as an independent country has made it very important to now decide once and for all what kind of state it should be. So far the country has been a Presidential republic, with the President acting as Head of Government as well as Head of State. However more and more often different options are suggested: a Parliamentary republic, in which the President reverts to a figurehead Head of State role, or a constitutional monarchy, in which both Government and Parliament are responsible to a monarch with constitutional limits on his power.

In the post-Soviet era Georgia has had three Presidents – Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Eduard Shevardnadze and Mikheil Saakashvili. All three of them did a lot to strengthen the institution of the Presidency. However their opponents confronted not only them personally but the Presidency as such. The first two Presidents were forced to cut short their terms., partly because of the nature of the position they occupied.

When Gamsakhurdia was ousted in 1992 his opponents abolished the Presidency, blaming it for all the troubles. So Shevardnadze, who was invited back from Moscow the same year, first became Head of State as the Chairman of Parliament. But in 1995 a new Constitution reestablished the Presidency and Shevardnadze became the President. Mikheil Saakashvili, after coming to power in the Rose Revolution, further increased Presidential powers by introducing amendments to the Constitution, which are currently being revisited on his initiative. But all this time the opposition has sought to dismantle the Presidential republic, suggesting alternative models.

Though it might not reflect the opinion of the entire population, the results of recent polling carried out by the Kviris Palitra newspaper are symptomatic: out of 439 respondents only 16.1% supported a Presidential republic as an executive model. A Parliamentary system was favoured by 42.5% and a constitutional monarchy by 24.8%. The rest abstained. It could be suggested that these results reflect the public disaffection with the lost war, frustration at the failures of the Rose Revolution and the falling rating of the present Government. But many are openly discussing the bankruptcy of the institution of the Presidency in Georgia.

The idea of being lead by a strong hand, though, is not unattractive to many. Consequently the survival of the Presidency is not completely out of the question. A Parliamentary republic only works when you have strong political parties, a weak point of the Georgian political culture – the strongest political force, the United National Movement, is actually an artificial conglomerate united around one person, and the other parties, may be with certain exceptions, are very similar, lacking both reasons to exist and any obvious ideology. As for constitutional monarchy, this idea has become more popular since Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II expressed his support for it. However the scandalous infighting which takes place between members of the traditional Georgian royal house, the Bagrationi dynasty, with their claims, counterclaims, accusations and struggles for the privilege of nominating the possible heir to the throne, is disgusting to observe and discredits this idea.

The question of why the institution of the Presidency is opposed so much can be answered in different ways. We think that a major reason is the deficit of rule of law in this country. Often Presidents put themselves above the law and the Constitution. So by objecting to the Presidency people support democracy and rule of law. However, such a system is created not only by abolishing the Presidency but building up democratic institutions – an independent court system, strong NGOs, a free media and a politically aware civil society. Is Georgia ready for democracy? Maybe if the people want all these changes badly enough, democracy will be ready for Georgia.