GEO

Constitutional amendments -- Why the rush?

27 September, 2010

The Georgian Parliament held the first reading of the Constitutional amendments on Friday 24 September. The reading was a surprise in that the Wednesday before, few even in Parliament seemed sure if and when it would happen. Today, although there is a discussion of the hearing, the only documents in English or Georgian available on either the parliamentary web site www.parliament.ge or the state constitutional commission's web site www.constcommis.gov.ge are the July versions. If the most recent version available is the July version, have there been no changes since then? It would be helpful to know that. Whichever version was passed in the first reading this past Friday is not posted as of four pm today (Monday 27 September 2010). There have been comments made that the second hearing could be held this coming Friday. The draft fundamentally changes the structure of the Georgian state, making the now almost nominal Prime Minister a very powerful figure and significantly decreasing the powers of the president. The changes are not to take force until 2013, but the government has pushed them through in a great but unexplained rush. The current draft began to appear at the end of June. The leadership often states that the very public commission had met during an entire year before that. That is true but for that entire time there was no structure to the conversation and there was no clear process laid out of how the discussion would progress. During this time there were various drafts progressed. Also often stated is that the commission has sponsored public discussions around the country. They have. But to date there has been no summary document of these discussions with what members of the public said, what was accepted and what was rejected and why. With many organizations working at low capacity in Georgia and elsewhere in Europe during July and August, and because the time table has not been clearly publicized, it is not surprising that commentary has been modest. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe has worked very quickly to analyze the draft but has been told that there is not time to wait until their final comments to be released eighteen days from today. There are two important questions. The first is why are these changes needed? The current leadership has hinted at what has been said by others since 2004, that the president is too strong in the current system. If that is the reason then why won't the changes take force until 2013? The second question is why the rush? The government has alluded to needing to put other legislation in line with the new constitution. But surely two years (2011 and 2012) would be sufficient for that, in which case the parliament could comfortably wait for a second reading until Christmas. In late August, TI Georgia, the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association and the Levan Mikeladze Foundation asked Parliament to extend the period of debate and discussion on the draft constitution – the request was ignored triggered a cynical response from David Darchiashvili (United National Movement), the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on European Integration. By law, after the second reading, there can be only cosmetic changes made in the third reading. So if the second reading takes place this Friday, this will be a repeat of the sixth of February 2004 when the entire structure of the Georgian state was changed in three days.

Author: Mari Gabedava