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New Constitution: supporters and critics

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, July 28
The new draft of the Constitution elaborated by the State Constitutional Commission has been signed by the President and submitted to Parliament for consideration. There are certain procedures to be observed from now on, the next one of these being that the draft should be discussed publicly for a minimum of one month.

So far the draft has been evaluated by the opposition and the so-called Public Constitutional Commission, which has asked the President to recall the Constitution from Parliament and introduce serious amendments to it. It is however clear, and the Public Constitutional Commission knows perfectly well, that the President will not do that. If an ordinary citizen offers to participate in the public discussion of the Constitution, though he has a right to do so, he will face quite serious problems. He will face opprobrium from too sides: the Government and its supporters are perfectly happy with new draft, whereas the opposition and Public Constitutional Commission fiercely criticise it.

One of the major demands of the critics of the draft is that public discussion of it should be postponed. They argue that August is a dead season in Georgia. Heat and holidays have created the long held general assumption that nothing serious happens in August (perhaps the Russian invasion of 08/08/08 was deliberately held in this month for this reason). The critics understand that holding the debates in August means that the draft's promoters do not really want it to be discussed seriously. Postponing or prolonging the terms of the discussion could be done without any problems, because part of the Constitution will only come into force in 2011 and the rest in 2013. However the ruling party is stubborn, and not prepared to make any concessions, so the discussion will be held in August and perhaps the beginning of September. This is a very limited time in which to either submit professionally prepared suggestions or organise street rallies. It will be nearly 40 degrees above zero in the shade in August.

The administration has gained itself a big advantage by doing, at least in theory, what the opposition has been asking it to for many years: decreasing Presidential power and changing the mode of governance from a Presidential to a Parliamentary republic. However the changes give the current President of Georgia, whose term expires in January 2013, the opportunity to become PM and remain so for time unlimited unless his party loses its majority in Parliament, though this is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future as the Parliament and Government can manipulate huge administrative resources apparently at will. So the opposition has received what it wanted but in reality has lost further ground. As the popular saying in Georgia goes, Misha Magaria, meaning Misha is a tough guy.

The draft Constitution being discussed is very much consistent with the European type of Constitution. The balance between the branches of government, Parliamentary control, the increased powers of the PM and limitation on the powers of the President and so on are standard European features. But it is also likely to confirm the present ruling party in power for many years to come. Therefore it is vitally important that the 2012 Parliamentary elections are conducted fairly without any manipulations. This will of course be very difficult to achieve when the Government is determined to preserve its dominance.