A special session of the Parliament passed on September 24 with 123 votes to 4 with its first reading draft of constitutional amendments, which will cut next president’s powers in favor of PM.
The draft was presented to the lawmakers by Zurab Adeishvili, an influential minister of justice, who rarely makes public appearances.
After summarizing key points of the proposed draft, Adeishvili responded to lawmakers’ questions during which he indicated that the authorities were ready to consider and accept some of the recommendations related to further reduction of the presidential powers during the second reading.
In one such possible change, Adeishvili said, it was possible to consider a concrete proposal, if proposed any by the second reading, which would help to prevent conflict between president and government in the sphere of foreign relations.
According to the current draft, president keeps the position of supreme representative of Georgia in foreign relations. As Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs, Venice Commission, said in its preliminary opinion on the draft, this provision “risks being a source of conflict with the government, should it not be clear that the representation functions of the president [in foreign relations] should be confined to symbolic ones.”
“We are ready to discuss in details if there is any concrete proposal on how to avoid conflict between the President and the government over foreign policy issues during the second reading,” Adeishvili told lawmakers.
Another possible change, that would cut presidential powers, involves giving PM a right of so called “counterassignation” of presidential decree on appointment of chief of staff of the armed forces.
Adeishvili said the authorities were ready to accept this change and reflect in the draft during the second reading.
According to the current draft PM will have the right of “counterassignation” of presidential decrees, which means that some decrees should be confirmed by PM's signature before they go into force. However, this right of PM, under the current draft, will not apply to a presidential acts concerning appointment of chief of staff of the armed forces; members of the National Security Council, judges, as well as decisions to dissolve the Parliament; calling elections; initiation of a draft law and signing it into law and signing of international treaties.
The third change, which Adeishvili said was also possible during the second reading, concerns depriving president the right of initiation of a draft law.
Other changes, which are already reflected in the current draft, are: category of “organic law” will remain in the constitution; not PM unilaterally, but entire government will appoint regional governors; president will have no right to unilaterally call for a referendum; president will have no right to unilaterally nominate members of telecommunications and energy regulatory commissions, but he will have to do it with agreement with government.
Adeishvili, however, rejected some other issues raised by the parliamentary minority, including one on reducing threshold required for overriding presidential veto on Parliament-supported prime ministerial candidate from 3/5 of votes (90 MPs) to absolute majority (76 votes).
He also rejected proposal on life-time appointment for judges of Supreme Courts. According to the draft term in office of judges of city courts and courts of appeals will only expire after reaching a retirement age; but the rule does not apply to Supreme Court judges.
Another controversial provision of the draft concerns introduction a probationary period of not more than three years to newly appointed judges. Adeishvili defended the probationary period, citing experience of European nations, and said it would be kept in the draft.
He also rejected a proposal to ban a president from being a member of any political party, citing that the post remains directly elected and the political parties should remain affiliated to the process.
A call by the Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM), a leading party in the parliamentary minority, to keep a provision in the new constitution requiring the parliamentary vote of confidence if one-third of cabinet members are replaced, was also rejected.
Adeishvili also rejected the calls for separating process of election of head of government of Adjara Autonomous Republic from the central government in Tbilisi. Under the current draft, the president, with the agreement of the government, will nominate candidate for head of Adjara government and the candidate will require approval from the local legislative body of the Autonomous Republic.
Adeishvili said that the intention was to enforce the new constitution from December, 2013, following the presidential elections scheduled for the autumn of 2013.
“This is a very important decision, because this new constitution is not designed for next few years; it will shape the future political landscape of the country for decades,” Zurab Adeishvili said.
Lawmakers from CDM, who are in favor of parliamentary system of governance, said during the debates that the draft required more amendments towards further increase the legislative body’s powers; CDM, however, in overall deem the draft as a step forward in comparison to the current system and voted for the draft.