TBILISI, DFWatch–The constitutional amendments which reduce the powers of President Mikheil Saakashvili were passed on Monday by 114 votes against 0 at the third and final hearing.
When the amendments come into force, the president can no longer change the government immediately against the will of parliament; the government will instead continue to function in a caretaker role until a new parliamentary election has been held and a new government appointed.
The amendments did not touch Saakashvili’s right to dissolve the parliament per se, and left in place a rule which bars him from doing so less than six months before or after a parliamentary or presidential election. This means means that for ten days in April, he may use his right to dissolve parliament and force a snap parliamentary election, but in this case election will be conducted by members of current government, which was formed by Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition.
The two main political blocs have been sharply at odds over the constitutional amendments and the issue almost became a trip wire for the precarious power-sharing arrangement often called ‘cohabitation’. Several attempts at negotiating ended in a demand by President Saakashvili’s National Movement party that Georgian Dream must ‘admit’ that they didn’t have the required two third majority to pass the amendments. When the coalition admitted this, a deal was struck.
The constitutional amendment was one of the Georgian Dream coalition’s election promises, which also got support from some UNM members. Georgian Dream also wants to remove that part of the constitution which says that parliament must be located in Kutaisi. UNM members and the president are categorically against moving parliament back to Tbilisi, as it was only last year that the new parliament building in Kutaisi was opened.
With 85 seats, Georgian Dream is fifteen votes short of the 100 votes that are needed to pass constitutional amendments, even counting in the independents.