Friday, 08 March 2013

Georgia Moves Closer To Political Crisis

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by Eka Janashia (03/06/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst)

A March 4 meeting between the Georgian President and Prime Minister did not yield any tangible results. The two leaders aimed to reconcile the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition’s and the United National Movement’s (UNM) party positions over the constitutional amendments thwarted on February 20 due to divergent views on the extent of amnesty for former officials.

 

 

On the same day, Parliamentary Speaker David Usupashvili said that much progress had been reached through power-sharing talks on almost all controversial issues such as the increased threshold for any future constitutional amendment from 100 to 113 MPs; the incorporation of the UNM-proposed wording on foreign policy in the constitution; the endorsement of the new constitution ahead of schedule though maintaining the president’s right to appoint governors; the abstention from subjecting the constitutional amendment on the parliament’s location to a vote before the presidential elections in the fall; the preservation of a high bar to override the presidential veto; and maintained provisions related to presidential impeachment.

However, Usupashvili lamented that the UNM at the last minute demanded an unconditional and full amnesty for all ranks of public officials, including employees of municipalities, and that the amnesty is applied to all wrongdoings except for violent crimes.

In attempts to preserve achieved progress, GD proposed a “partial amnesty” implying full pardon for low and mid-level public servants, though with the precondition that they admit to committing unlawful activities. Nevertheless, while confessions would exempt officials from criminal prosecution, they would not be able to take public office for 5 years.

According to Usupashvili, the UNM then suggested a full amnesty for all public officials with the exception of the president, ministers and parliamentarians, and with the exception of violent crimes committed before October 1, 2012 but that GD declined the offer. It would be hard to explain to the society why everyone had been pardoned except for the President, parliamentarians and ministers, he said.

Commenting on Usupashvili’s remarks, the UNM parliamentary minority leader David Bakradze claimed that the question of amnesty was not set forth as a last-minute proposal but had been raised continuously by the UNM throughout the process of negotiations. “As of now about 15,000 people have been questioned [by the law enforcement agencies] just because they are affiliated in some form with the United National Movement,” he stressed.

On the day after the failed power-sharing talks Vano Merabishvili, the former PM and presently the secretary general of the UNM, called on patriots to join the rally on Rustaveli Avenue in downtown Tbilisi on April 19 to protest the policies of the GD-led government. The early announcement triggered speculations about the possibility of tensions stemming from a possible use of constitutional power by the president. In the present constitution, the president can dissolve parliament only within the timeframe of six months after the parliamentary and six months prior to the presidential elections. This means that Saakashvili could sack the parliament from the beginning of April, given that the last parliamentary polls took place on October 1. However, the constitution stipulates that he needs to dismiss the government before parliament.

Importantly, the constitution does not set a timeframe regarding the president’s right to dismiss the prime minister and government, which could theoretically be done at any time. Further, if the parliament disapproves of a new cabinet presented by him three times, the president will have the capacity to sack the latter but should do so within the restricted timeframe. In case he does not manage to do so due to prolonged procedures caused by the GD delay tactics, the president is empowered to appoint a prime minister and government without support of the parliament.

This is the reason why PM Ivanishvili insisted, in his open letter released on February 26, on obtaining a “clear-cut response” from Saakashvili regarding the GD-proposed constitutional amendment envisaging the restriction of presidential power to appoint the government without parliament’s consent. “I will not accept [answers] like ‘yes, but’ or ‘not today, tomorrow’,” Ivanishvili wrote and pledged to put the amendments on vote before the end of March.

If by that time GD will gather the necessary votes to endorse the amendments, the president will lose even his hypothetical leverage to dismiss both the government and parliament and thus the possibility of influencing GD’s grip on power.

Saakashvili certainly understands the possibility of such a scenario as well as the risks deriving from his use of constitutional rights. The UNM-initiated April rally should be considered as a message of warning to the government, implying that without strong guarantees, the president may decide to use his power especially if GD’s chances of attracting much-needed votes will grow in the upcoming month. Such a move, however, will undoubtedly turn the failed cohabitation into political crisis. 

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