TBILISI, DFWatch – Two of Mikheil Saakashvili’s ministers say he won’t cling on to power as prime minister after he steps down in 2013, but the president himself refuses to give a definite answer.
Prime Minister Grigol Vashadze said it is not going to happen, while Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia went even further and promised it on behalf of his boss while talking to foreign media.
There is continued speculation that Saakashvili might decide to become prime minister after the end of his second term, following constitutional changes a year ago which decreased the powers of the president while increasing those of the prime minister.
The government has said the changes are done to accommodate demands from the opposition to balance the powers of the state. But although the powers of the president have been decreased, in return the powers of the prime minister have increased, in effect just exchanging the title president with that of prime minister. This has raised expectations that Saakashvili is preparing for himself to remain as the real manager of the country and that we will see a Russian scenario repeated in Georgia.
The fact that president Saakashvili’s two term limit is expiring strengthens this suspicion; he will not be allowed to run again as a candidate for president. It’s important to note that while reviewing the constitutional, the ruling party didn’t follow any of the suggestions made by the opposition or the non-governmental sector. These requests were about restricting the current president from becoming prime minister for some period.
Adding to this picture, the changes which transfers power from president to prime minister are set to come into effect right at the same time as Saakashvili’s second term expires, in early 2013. In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, Saakashvili said he didn’t exclude the possibility that he may consider becoming prime minister after his term expires.
A few days ago, foreign press reported that Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze “with full responsibility” assures that it is not in Saakashvili’s plans to become prime minister from 2013.
Vashadze said this in an interview with Oleg Antonenko, journalist with BBC’s Russian edition.
The journalist confronted Vashadze with the proposition that since Saakashvili won’t have the right to be a candidat in the presidential elections in 2013, some say he will do just like Vladimir Putin and stay in government at any price.
Georgia’s first diplomat answered: ‘The same people who speculate on the future plans of the president, have been demanding to transfer Georgia from a presidential [form of government] to a parliamentary. Since our ruling party began implementing this, discussions began that our president tries to fit Putin’s mask. No one has yet confirmed to me the presidential plans to become prime minister. As a member of the ruling team I state with all responsibility that it’s not part of the president’s plans.’
It should also be noted that the president himself has made similar statements to foreign media several times, despite the fact that he has told other papers that he didn’t exclude becoming prime minster.
In an interview with Charlie Rose on TV Company PBS March 11, 2011, he said that the possibility of him becoming prime minister is not a subject of discussion in the community around him at all.
“Can you imagine that I will tell anything about it? This will automatically destroy our entire schedule. Of course, if you are Tony Blair or George Bush in a country where there are well-developed institutions, this may work, but they had problems. Can you imagine a little, diligent country with a president in his last term in the most critical moment? I don’t think this will work. I’m not going to get into discussions. Such discussions are not convenient for the nearest future of my country,”Saakasvhvili stated in March.
After this statement, Saakashvili made it appear that the post of prime minister is not interesting to him at all.
‘The post of Prime Minister after the presidential seems uninteresting,’ he claimed in an interview with Polish bureau ‘Euractive.’
“According to the new constitution, the president maintains important powers and prime minister is also important, but is fully dependent on the parliament. Not really an interesting position for a person who is a president today,” Saakashvili claimed.
But in reality, the prime minister is dependent on the parliament only at the moment of being appointed. Afterwards, it becomes virtually impossible to fire him from his post, due to the mechanism for doing so being so complicated. It is also remarkable that the non-governmental sector, the opposition and international organizations has requested the government to simplify exactly this procedure, so that parliament could balance the prime minister for real. But the government did not follow this recommendation, arguing that reforms are necessary in the country and the government cannot be fully defendant on parliament while making its decisions.
There have not come any signals yet from the international community about the prospect of Saakashvili staying on as prime minister. What is being said is that the government should be changed via elections and that it is important to conduct free and democratic elections.
This was last heard from Eric Rubin, the US State Department’s special envoy for Eurasian affairs, who was in Georgia a few days ago. There is also a discussion in political circles that the United States’ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be visiting Georgia in the beginning of next year, and that her visit may be connected to the elections of next year.
Representatives of the opposition who have a connection with the international community say that the West is concerned with the prospect of Saakashvili staying in government and are calling for him not to repeat a Putin scenario.
Also among Georgians, him becoming prime minister is not seen as desirable.
One of the questions in a new poll was whether people would support the candidacy of Mikheil Saakashvili as their next prime minister. Only 24% answered they would, while 26% said they would prefer Bidzina Ivanishvili, a businessman who recently launched an opposition movement.
The survey was done by the Institute of Social Studies and Analysis on order of Georgian Development Research Institute between November 11 and 22 in 11 regions of Georgia, and 3 000 people were questioned.