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Labour demands ‘constitutional disqualification’

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, June 24
A wave of constitutional reforms is being undertaken in Georgia. Different commissions and individuals are proposing their own versions of what the constitution should look like. The Labour Party is demanding that the Constitutional Commission introduce a clause which would disqualify Mikheil Saakashvili from becoming either PM or Parliamentary Chair when his Presidential term ends. Labour is threatening to start mass protests if this demand is not met.

Despite Labour's categorical demand it is doubtful that it can unite the opposition around this idea or convene mass protest actions. However it brings into sharper focus an issue which is being much speculated about, that constitutional changes are being proposed simply in order to give President Saakashvili the opportunity to become PM, as the proposed amendments will increase the Prime Minister's power at the expense of the President's. The current constitution forbids one person from being President for more than 2 terms, but he can be PM for as long as his party commands a majority in Parliament.

The President himself has already openly admitted that he might do this, so Labour is entirely against it. It was during a June 21 meeting with Chairman of Constitutional Commission Avtandil Demetrashvili that Labour leader Shalva Natelashvili stated that if the demand was not met the party would bring all Georgia out into the streets and overthrow the Government. Demetrashvili very calmly explained that forbidding someone to take another position after their Presidential term has expired is a gross violation of human rights and no such clause exists in any constitution in the world. One can assume that Labour had expected this answer, so either the demand will be forgotten about or Labours will try to unite the opposition on the basis of it. Presumable the various opposition parties agree in principle that Saakashvili should be prevented from staying in power, but any opposition group would find it difficult to bring the people out into the streets again in the present climate.

The strategy of the ruling party is slowly becoming clear. It knows that the opposition have been calling for a Parliamentary republic instead of a Presidential one for many years, so it has skillfully used this situation for its own advantage by appearing to accept this. By reducing the President’s powers and increasing those of the PM we have given the opposition what they want, the ruling party will say, though the effect of the changes, as the opposition should have foreseen, will be to create the very situation the opposition were trying to avoid.

The opposition do not want to allow the ruling party to continue its dominance. Here winning the next Parliamentary and Presidential elections becomes the most important issue, though it is unclear how the opposition will be able to do this unless the new constitution allows them to. The ruling National Movement is preparing for the challenge, although there are difficulties in finding a Presidential candidate who will not overshadow Saakashvili but still be powerful enough to defeat any opposition candidate. It is still early to go into such precise details, but the National Movement, as ever, will doubtless do so first.