Wednesday, 06 June 2001

A sweeping package of constitutional reforms have been announced by President Shevardnadze

Published in Analytical Articles

By Ivlian Haindrava (6/6/2001 issue of the CACI Analyst)

In fact there is nothing new in the idea of Cabinet. Before the adoption of the Constitution in August 1995, the Cabinet system did exist in Georgia though poorly operating and characterized by an amorphous structure. The 1995 Georgian Constitution established a presidential republic with the President being both the Head of State and the chief executive.
In fact there is nothing new in the idea of Cabinet. Before the adoption of the Constitution in August 1995, the Cabinet system did exist in Georgia though poorly operating and characterized by an amorphous structure. The 1995 Georgian Constitution established a presidential republic with the President being both the Head of State and the chief executive. The President appoints members of his government with the consent of Parliament and is authorized to remove them without Parliament’s involvement. Since the Constitution came into force and parliamentary elections were held in the Fall of 1995, governments have been formed in accordance with the President’s political taste. In spite of several structural and personnel shake-ups, successive governments proved to be so eclectic and impotent that this configuration of the executive became discredited just in the same way that the Cabinet system of the first half of the 1990s had been. Chronical budgetary failures that lead to an accumulation of external and internal debts, overwhelming corruption, an inability to implement fundamental reforms, and even the sabotage of reforms by such mighty governmental institutions as the Ministry of Interior all resulted in a situation when doubts about Shevardnadze’s ability to adequately run the country turned into certainty. The publication of an article in the Washington Post only added fuel to the fire. The reporter quoted the head of the Parliamentary Committee on Economic Policy Ivane Merabishvili saying: ‘It’s impossible to do serious business in Georgia if you don’t have a relation of the president’. Talking about President Shevardnadze, Merabishvili continued: ‘He’s tired now. He doesn’t even want to hear the word reform. If he says he’s fighting corruption and wants reforms, it’s only to keep the West supporting him. As a member of his party, I feel he doesn’t have political will to change anything’.

IMPLICATIONS: The Washington Post publication was interpreted in Georgia not only as a warning to a ruling regime that is totally dependent on Western aid but also as evidence of growing discord inside the Citizens’ Union of Georgia (CUG). The fact of member of the CUG openly and sharply criticized his own leader was an unusual occurrence in Georgia. Accordingly, the idea of constitutional reform was presented both as a mean of overcoming the impotence of the executive and as a demonstration of unity inside the presidential party. Shevardnadze believes that the introduction of the Cabinet is possible within the frames of a presidential republic where a powerful President, a powerful Parliament and an empowered Cabinet may successfully collaborate. The leadership of the CUG hopes that formation of the Cabinet will contribute to overcoming the antagonisms within the government that hamper effective administration and will be helpful in the implementation of a ‘team spirit’, meaning the government’s collective responsibility for its decisions and realization of reforms. Contrary to CUG affirmations about Georgia’s move towards so-called ‘French’ political system, the opposition talks about an inevitable shift to the aggravated ‘Russian’ model if the amendments are adopted. Serious concerns are expressed on empowering the President to dissolve the unicameral parliament; the revocation of the government’s ‘unconstitutional’ decrees is considered to be the prerogative of the Constitutional Court and not of the President. The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, an influential NGO, stated that the proposed amendments undermine democracy, counteract the principle of division of powers, and will as a result lad to ‘the President’s irresponsible dictatorship’ which will deprive the highest representative body of real functions.  The Chairman of the Constitutional Court, Avtandil Demetrashvili, considers it unreasonable to launch constitutional reform in response to discord inside the ruling party. Such a process, Demetrashvili fears, may cause political instability in the country. On May 22, all 92 members of opposition parliamentary factions signed a common statement. They demand the Parliament to pass an Electoral Code and a new law on local self-governance (local elections are scheduled for the fall) before the debates on constitutional amendments start. The new Code should ensure precise identification and registration of the voters, formation of the electoral commissions on the basis of equality of political organizations participating in the elections, non-interference of authorities in the election procedures, election of the mayors and the heads of local administrations instead of appointing them by President. For the first time since 1995 the opposition got an opportunity to demonstrate its force, since qualified majority (157 out of 235) is needed to pass constitutional amendments in the Parliament, while Shevardnadze and Zhvania control only 143 votes. For its part, the CUG tries to politically benefit from such an unexampled unity of opposition. Presenting the governmental reform almost as an universal panacea, Zhvania and his teammates insist that if the opposition does not support the amendments, it will carry all the responsibility for miserable situation in the country. 

CONCLUSIONS: Essentially, discussions about principles of forming of executive are a reflection of a fierce struggle for the power. The first year Shevardnadze’s last five-year presidential term has expired. Preparations for the “post-Shevardnadze” period have already started both inside and outside his party. Potential competitors for the presidency consider the position of Prime minister as a favorable launching pad. It is generally known that the control of governmental bodies is more crucial in Georgian elections (both presidential and parliamentary) than the support of the voters. The opposition, meanwhile, focuses on electoral issues to ensure itself a more or less equal status in the struggle for power after Shevardnadze’s departure.

AUTHOR BIO: Ivlian Haindrava is a political analyst and freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, Georgia.

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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