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Opposition dissent over draft Constitution brushed aside

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, July 21
President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili will present the agreed version of the new draft Georgian constitution to Parliament on July 21. On the same day representatives from the legislative and executive branches of government will form a discussion group to study the draft in further detail. .

The State Constitutional Commission ratified the final version of the draft by 44 votes to 3 on July 19. The draft was not supported by opposition MP Jondi Baghaturia, member of the Liberty Institute Levan Ramishvili and Chair of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association Tamar Khidasheli. "I did not support the project because I thought it was being hastily voted upon, which raised some doubts concerning the present Government. The vote should have been held in September, as summer does not give the time to give serious discussion to such an important issue, Baghaturia said. "This draft increases the role of the Government at the expense of Parliament, which is not acceptable. The Venice Commission did not agree some points in this draft either. I think the draft is much better than the current Constitution, but the Commission could do much more, Tamar Khidasheli said. Ramishvili would not comment on his refusal to support the draft.

In addition to the three members of the Commission who refused to support the draft almost all the opposition parties combined to release a joint statement protesting against the way the new constitution is being rushed through without sufficient time for debate, saying that the Government is trying to extend its hold on power by doing this. Secretary of Constitutional Commission Tengiz Sharmanashvili responded to this by saying, "The opposition made a big mistake when they refused to get involved in drafting the new Constitution. They did not think that this might be done successfully. The opposition's childish claims that the Commission confirmed the project in haste under Government pressure are just means of trying to disguise their mistake, Sharmanashvili said.

In response to the opposition claim that the new Constitution should be confirmed by the next Parliament, not the present one, President Saakashvili said that snap Parliamentary elections will not take place. "I thought that as a result of the local elections in May, our political parties had become more mature. Why is this Parliament not authorised to pass the new Constitution? The National Movement garnered more votes at the local elections than in the March 2008 Parliamentary elections. Our voters have not changed their opinion and this was demonstrated during the recent local elections. So the sitting Parliament has all the legitimacy it needs to adopt any kind of constitutional model. Calling for new elections every time you lose one is like calling for a new World Cup every three months, just because Brazil failed to win it. However the opposition parties are far from being Brazil, they are like lower level teams, he said.

Most analysts describe the new Constitution as important for the country. "I cannot agree with the opposition. The draft is acceptable. It is impossible to get an ideal version as differences of opinions always exist, Soso Tsintsadze said. Some analysts consider that there are some questionable articles in the draft but hope that it will be improved during public discussion. The discussion group of legislative and executive members will receive public comments during August and produce a summary of them for the Georgian Parliament by the end of that month. Only after these comments have been discussed can Parliament discuss adopting the draft.