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New constitution priority

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, June 8
The local elections of May 30 were conducted successfully by the administration and assessed positively by Western observers, who did not challenge the results. The opposition mainly do not agree but the dominant opinion at present is that the elections were sufficiently free and fair to be regarded as acceptable. Furthermore, now constitutional reform is on the agenda and discussions about future Presidential and Parliamentary elections can only be held within the context of the new constitution, which may require them to be held in a different way.

On May 11 the draft constitution known as the Demetrashvili-Sharmanashvili variant was adopted by the Constitutional Commission as the framework for future refinement. 31 of the Commission's 41 members supported it in preference to the Levan Ramishvili variant from the Liberty Institute, which would have made Georgia a federal state, and a third model which would have created a US style Presidential republic. The approved variant is a mixed model which will create a semi-Parliamentary republic. The President will remain the major arbiter but will not determine the countryís internal or foreign policy. The powers of Parliament and the PM will be increased and though the President will select the PM for Parliament's approval that person will represent the dominant party in Parliament.

The Venice Commission started discussing the draft on June 4-5. Over the next two weeks it will consider the positions and suggestions of different commentators and give a final evaluation. In July and August the draft constitution will be discussed very intensively both in Georgia and abroad and it will then be submitted to Parliament for further discussion and final adoption.

The Georgian Constitution adopted in 1995 created the Presidential republic. Since February 6, 2004 it has been semi-Presidential in theory, but experts say that it is not well balanced, as it gives too much power to the President. They think that this concentration of additional power in the Presidentís hands has hindered democratic development in Georgia and the opposition parties always object to the extent of Presidential powers, some demanding the abolition of the Presidency. Many advocate a Parliamentary republic. The draft constitution now proposed does move the country more in the direction of a Parliamentary republic, but some analysts wonder why the current leadership supports these changes. One idea is that President Saakashvili is trying to create a situation where he can be appointed Prime Minister, following the so-called Putin model. This is a possibility and the Georgian media are also discussing this possibility. If moving from a Presidential to a Parliamentary republic is more democratic, then the Putin model is less so, by the same criteria. However some analysts think it unlikely that this is what will happen.

There has also been much speculation about who will be the next President of Georgia. During the election campaign the opposition maintained that the directly elected Mayor of Tbilisi would have a big chance of becoming a future President, and indeed Gigi Ugulava has often been thought as a future President. However analysts suggest that he will have many challengers from within the ruling party itself, and therefore there will be much controversy within the ruling party over the coming two years.