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Confusion over text of new constitution

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, June 10
A draft of the new Georgian Constitution has been sent to the Venice Commission. However it was pointed out on June 9 that there is a difference between the texts of the Georgian version of the draft and the English version sent to the Commission.

Tea Tsulukiani, a member of Our Georgia–Free Democrats, pointed out the discrepancy. “Article 2 of the English version of the draft states that the day the final results of the Presidential elections of 2013 are announced will be the date these constitutional changes come into effect. This is not mentioned at all in the Georgian version published on the official webpage and available to the public,” Tsulukiani said, saying that this had been done to mislead the Georgian people.

“The Constitutional Commission and the Government seem to be eager to make all their desired changes without informing the Georgian public when they will come into effect. This will prevent the Government of Georgia having to answer extra questions and face further criticism and protest. By the time the public knows the truth all the changes will already have been made and our President might have become Prime Minister without any problem,” Tsulukiani added.

Tsulukiani said that Irakli Alasania, leader of the Alliance for Georgia, has asked Avtandil Demetrashvili, Chair of the Constitutional Commission, to explain officially why the Venice Commission has beeen given a different version of the draft and why the Constitutional Commission has decided that the constitional changes should come into effect after the Presidential elections of 2013. A copy of Alasania's letter has also been sent to Gianni Buquicchio, President of the Venice Commission, for further consideration.

Secretary of the Constitutional Commission Tengiz Sharmanashvili stated at a special press conference that, “Unfortunately I am not at all good at English and thus I can’t explain what happened in the English version of the draft. We will by all means study this and take relevant action,” Sharmanashvili said, stressing the date when the changes in the State Constitution will become binding is being discussed within Georgia, not by the Venice Commission. He encouraged both the Government and opposition representatives to start immediate consultations. “Consultations should aim at ensuring that the proposed changes within the State Constitution will not be altered in Parliament. As the Secretary of the Commission I am responsible for safeguarding its procedures and I will not let any issue be decided without votes being taken,” Sharmanashvili concluded.

Avtandil Demetrashvili, Chair of the Constitutional Commission, has told The Messenger that there are no differences between the Georgian and English versions of the draft law. “The exact date for making the changes law hasn’t yet been worked out. The misunderstanding around this issue must have been caused by the fact that there is no date in the Georgian text published on our official webpage, as we still have lots of time to decide what this date should be, but as we had to send the document to the Venice Commission we needed to specify a particular date for technical reasons. We simply used the text of the existing constitution, which says that Parliament's term ends in 2012 as the President's in 2013,” Demetrashvili said. He stressed that the Constitutional Commission will continue discussing the appropriate date at which the suggested constitional changes should come into effect.

The Public Constitutional Commission, a separate body to the State Constitutional Commission which prepared the draft being discussed by the Venice Commission, doesn’t exclude the possibility that the new constitution will allow Mikheil Saakashvili to become Prime Minister when his Presidential term expires. Vakhtang Khmaladze, Chair of this Commission, said that only the American model of governance forbids this. “The American Presidential model absolutely prohibits such a thing but all other models give anyone an opportunity to become Prime Minister. As for the difference between the Georgian and English versions, this may be a technical error,” Khmaladze stated.

“I have also compared the translations of Articles 79, 80 and 81 with the Georgian versions. There are no changes to the Prime Minister’s obligations in the Georgian version, he is still responsible to the President. However the State Constitutional Commission claimed that the PM should be separated from the Government,” Khmaladze concluded. The Public Constitutional Commission also doubts whether the Venice Commission has actually approved the draft presented to it, and whether any draft will come into force in 2013.