Georgian parliament backs power shift to prime minister, critics say move benefits Saakashvili

By Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili, AP
Friday, October 1, 2010

Georgian lawmakers shift powers to prime minister

TBILISI, Georgia — The Georgian parliament on Friday gave tentative approval to a constitutional reform that critics say is designed to let President Mikhail Saakashvili remain a political force even after his current term expires.

The constitutional amendments passed in the second of three required readings would increase the powers of parliament and the prime minister at the expense of the presidency. Saakashvili’s opponents say that would allow him to continue calling the shots after his second presidential term ends in 2013 as long as he moves the premier’s seat.

Vladimir Putin used the same tactic in Russia in 2008, becoming a powerful prime minister after serving two terms as president.

Saakashvili denies that the reform is tailored to him, insisting it was necessary for the country’s successful development. Parliament, dominated by Saakashvili loyalists, is expected to give final approval later this month despite opposition protests.

Saakashvili weathered weeks of opposition demonstrations last year demanding his resignation over his handling of the disastrous 2008 war with Russia, but the splintered opposition groups failed to coordinate and the protests fizzled out.

Saakashvili secured his grip on power last May, when his staunch ally won the mayoral elections in the capital of Tbilisi and candidates from his party swept local elections.

The new constitution lets the prime minister name Cabinet members and shape policies, turning the president into a mostly ceremonial figure.

“Saakashvili needs to stay in power, because he knows that any democratically elected leadership will raise the issue of his responsibility (for the war),” opposition leader and former parliament speaker Nino Burdrzhanadze said recently. “He wants to create a constitution that would guarantee that he remains in power.”

Public reaction to the proposed changes has been mixed. A recent opinion survey had 26 percent of respondents supporting a Saakashvili shift into the premier’s post while 32 percent opposed it, 16 percent were indifferent and the rest undecided. The margin of error for the poll conducted by the National Democratic Institute was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

will not be displayed