David Zurabashvili | Akaki Asatiani | Koba Davitashvili | Ia Antadze
Shortly after, in the beginning of year 1999, Chairman of faction “Citizens’ Union” Mikheil Saakashvili and a ‘reformer’ wing of the Majority initiated talks on the constitutional changes more seriously. Even President Shevardnadze supported the idea initially. ‘Young reformer’ wing of “Citizens’ Union” was demanding an executive government with team liability, while Shevardnadze was for composition of the government with people from different regions and different parties.
One phrase of the President solved debates within the Majority on this issue. He said, that the present model of the government has not used all its resources completely and it is early to change to the ‘cabinet’ system. President underlined such position in his annual report to the Parliament, when he stated, that existing problems might be solved under the present system.
Faction “Traditionalist” has been an initiator of the issue in the new Parliament (however, Citizens’ Union pledges, that they are initiators and “Traditionalist” just demanded discussion of the subject bit earlier). In the autumn of year 2000, “Traditionalists” started collecting the signatures of the parliamentarians to put the issue of the constitutional changes on the agenda**. “Agordzineba” was the only Opposition party that did not sign the initiative. Majority members supported the action as well. However, after the consultations with the President, 40 of Majority members withdrawn their signatures. Thus “Traditionalists” failed to collect 118 signatures, needed for legislative initiative.
The Subject of the Ministers’ Cabinet has been provoked unexpectedly for everyone by President himself on the spring 2001. Shevardnadze expressed his desire to create the cabinet during the session of the faction council (Citizens’ Union). Shevardnadze’s statement on constitutional changes strangely coincided with a scandalous article in the Washington Post newspaper, dedicated to Georgian president***.
Shortly after, on April 30, 2001, during his Monday briefing, President has officially declared that he is going to submit a legislative initiative on the constitutional changes to the Parliament. May 8 has been designated as a day to submit the bill (President also had scheduled his annual report to the Parliament on the same day). President submitted the bill to the Parliament with delay, on May 12.
President’s bill upset the Parliament. Opposition and a part of the Majority went against the bill, naming it as an attempt to sharply reduce the Parliament’s authority. This caused endless debates in the Parliament. President named Speaker of the Parliament Zurab Zhvania as a candidate to the Prime Minister’s post.
The bill increases President’s powers to a maximum, decreasing Parliament’s authority. Role of Prime Minister is rather weak as well. The following three points are quite enough an example:
- “If the Parliament declines President’s candidatures to the Prime Minister’s post for three times, President appoints Prime Minister, dissolves the Parliament and appoints new elections” (Paragraph 80, Point 5)
- “If the Parliament does not declare its trust to the Government, President either fires the Cabinet or dissolves the Parliament and appoints new elections”. (Paragraph 811, Point 2).
- “If the Parliament fails to adopt the budget before the start of a new budget year, President approves the budget with the decree, force of which equals to a law, and may dissolve the Parliament” (Paragraph 812, Point 6, Sub point “e”).
Initiation of the subject of constitutional changes, that caused the Parliament to engage in two-months-long debates and then the withdrawal of the bill provokes many questions: Why Shevardnadze needed this [process]? Was this just a “bite” to cover up other goals behind? Do we actually need ministers’ cabinet and which model is better for Georgia? Our guests will try to answer these questions.
* In Summer 1998 (August), due to unfulfilled budget and number of other problems, the Government, led by State Minister Niko Lekishvili resigned. Lekishvili stated, that this has been done to let President appoint the new Government, according to his own suggestions. 6 ministers and Lekishvili himself have not been included in the new Government. Vazha Lortkipanidze has been appointed as a new State Minister.
** According to the Constitution of Georgia, 118 or more signatures of the Parliament members (half or more of the total number) are needed to officially initiate discussion of the constitutional changes. President has the right of legislative initiative as well.
*** On April 14, 2001, American newspaper Washington Post published an article “A Hero to the West, A Villain at Home”, dedicated to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. Vano Merabishvili, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Economic Policy and Reforms, one of the active members of “Citizens’ Union” says in the article, that Shevardnadze is too old to fulfill his duties.
As of my personal opinion, I do not like so called “European system” which considers the cabinet of the ministers. I think, that the system that we have right now, which is an analog (even though not perfect) to an American system is much more suitable for present situation in the country. First of all, in our system division of powers is more definite (in the cabinet system, judicial power is a part of a executive branch of the government). Also a balance between executive and legislative branches is more solid in our system.
It is widely accepted, that the present system has two major drawbacks: first is that it is not flexible enough, which means that none of the government members could be dismissed due to political reasons. A second drawback is that, in case that the Opposition will come to lead the Parliament, but the President would be from another party, they hardly would be able to work in accord. However, this second minus has its positive sides too. In such situation one would be forced to find a compromise with every party. Basically, the present system enjoys more efficient tools for consensus and compromises.
Most important disadvantage of the system is that it has not duly worked anywhere. Actually there never has been such system so far. Only Mexico has something more or less alike, however President’s power there is much greater. Usually, almost everywhere the French model is being used, under which President has all executive power.
Our most important disadvantage is that we lack traditions of liberty, party functioning and so on. European models usually stand on these very traditions. Traditions and political culture guarantee successfulness of the governance model and not the model itself. We only have clans clashing with each other but not the political interests.
If we ask, why the issue of new government system has been provoked, than we would see, that if anyone wished to do something good to the country, the existing system would not have been an obstacle neither to President nor to the Parliament. This idea simply was acceptable to Shevardnadze, since the new model would have increased his powers. We are talking about French, Russian and Central Asian models, where President’s powers are much bigger then liabilities. Furthermore, if Zhvania would disappoint President as a prime minister and won’t play his game, then it would be much easier for Shevardnadze to get rid of him, because you can fire prime minister, but not a chairman of the parliament.
Zurab Zhvania and his team like this idea, because they see it as an only way to keep power levers in their hands. Shevardnadze would never let any political group to advance forward under his well-known policy of balance. But finally, such balancing results in a paralyzed government, because decisions are not being made. For instance, Chkhartishvili would never agree to what Saakashvili wants and vice-versa.
The new model does is not suitable for the Opposition. They have managed to create their links and connections in this chaos that we have and found good source for money making.
This issue has caused so much opposition because nobody wants Zhvania to become a prime minister. No one actually cares about the model. It is just a personal matter. They simply do not want this guy as a prime minister, that’s it! Therefore, I think that the [constitutional] changes would not be approved at this time. In any case, until Zhvania is a candidate for prime minister’s post, Aslan Abashidze will do everything to against these changes.
Our faction (“Traditionalist”) was the initiator of the constitutional changes in this Parliament. Initially, we have been told that it is early to implement these changes and probably 2 or 3 years would be needed for preparation. The Majority joined our initiative to introduce the Cabinet of the Ministers as well, but later they have changed their position when the President “got angry” with them.
Next was the internal crisis in the party, caused by the interview of the party’s member, chairman of the Committee of Economic Reforms, Vano Merabishvili to “Washington Post” newspaper, in which Merabishvili said, that Shevardnadze does not have any desire to change anything and he is simply too old to fulfill his duties. Issue of the cabinet of the ministers has become a very convenient decoy to avoid much public attention to the internal crisis.
Generally, when a politician makes steps, which are incorrect to the country, and tries to solve only his own problems, he might succeed to certain level, but finally he would pay a high price. The same has happened on the issue of ministers’ cabinet. The events have developed so rapidly, that the citizens were left with impression that two men (Shevardnadze and Zhvania) met and one promised to another to present him the cabinet. Unfortunately, the Speaker of the Parliament could not realize that he is not living alone in this country and did not refuse the proposal and thus opposed almost whole political elite against himself. The society was not happy with such developments as well. The Majority had a very simple step to do. They could write in the conclusion that this project is being done in accord with requests of “Traditionalist” faction and the Opposition and thus they could politically “stuck” the Opposition parties. However, we did not stand on our ‘copy rights’ on these constitutional changes and simply included other proposal for discussion, local self-governance elections’ issue in particular. We suggested viewing these projects in complex. But the Majority did not accept this idea. Finally, crisis deepened and it might ruin both Majority and Citizens’ Union. Zhvania’s political reputation has been spoiled by the crisis as well. This new crisis should be solved complexly. We should finally settle up as a European state.
It is very clear why President did provoke the issue (of constitutional changes/cabinet of the minister). It was necessary to discharge the crisis that I mentioned in the beginning of the interview. Initially they say that 2-3 years would be necessary to introduce these changes, and then suddenly decide to launch the process immediately. Therefore it is evident that they care for something else but not for the country’s interests. The party’s interests motivated them, but the party does not equal to the state.
The bill could not be approved at this time. But since its discussion has been postponed, it will have much more chances to get adopted in autumn. If the bill would be approved, it will cause regrouping of forces within the Parliament. But I think, that it would be mistake to accept to proposed model. We need a European model of ministers’ cabinet. The Parliament should approve whole cabinet with already prepared program at one time but not each minister separately and thus share responsibility with these people. I think this is a most logic and right way.
There is a rather strange, non-typical (for the European states) situation. Despite that President himself submitted the bill, now Shevardnadze seem to be doing everything to ensure that the bill would not get approved. On the other hand, content of this document is totally unacceptable for many of my colleagues and me. That’s why I cannot quite understand why everyone worries about Zhvania’s becoming as a prime minister. This is a secondary problem. First of all, changes should be introduced into the constitution and then we should think of candidatures. I would not agree to any changes only to let Zhvania to be a prime minister but would not go against the changes just because Zhvania might be a prime minister as well.
The bill, submitted by the President, in fact would eliminate parliamentarism in the country. This bill is a worst model of governance in the world. Worst elements of the constitutions of many countries are compiled into one bill, which reduces Parliament’s power to nothing, increasing President’s authority dramatically.
The most important function of the Parliament is approval of the budget. According to the bill, incase if the Parliament would not approve the budget, President has the right to approve it. At the same time, he can dissolve the Parliament. It would be even ridiculous, if President decides to not to do so. It is admissible to keep Parliament functioning even if President would approve the budget, but it is very unclear for me why or for what the parliament would be kept in such case.
In most of the countries in the world, parliament appoints the government. We have been suggested a model, under which the parliament would approve only a prime minister, and then President would appoint the ministers from prime minister’s nominees. Thus, members of the government would be unknown at an initial stage. If the Parliament would not appoint prime minister for three times, then President would. And this would not be just an acting prime minister, who would suspend his duties after the parliamentary elections.
The Parliament is a supreme legislative body. But, the bill says, that if any of the bills, submitted to the Parliament for approval, considers ay kind of changes in expenses, fiscal liabilities or incomes, then the Parliament would need consent of the Government to adopt the bill. This provision cancels legislative function of the Parliament, because any bill or law always would need changes in expenses, fiscal liabilities or incomes for implementation. This means, that Parliament would not be able to adopt any law without the Government’s permission. Finally the Parliament won’t be able to control the Government. So there is the question, would we need the Parliament at all?
Role of the prime minister in this model is very symbolic. He does not even control “power” ministers so after all it is unclear what does he do in fact.
Taking in to consideration all above-mentioned, why political spheres are concerned whether Zhvania would become a prime minister or not. The Opposition is against the bill, not because it is undemocratic, but because they do not wish Zhvania to be a prime minister. I personally say, that this bill is totally unacceptable.
The Opposition would support it, if the Majority would support Opposition’s bills. But I think, that the Opposition must not support the bill, because otherwise it would mean an end to both Majority and Opposition.
There is a major difference in opinions between the President and the ruling party and this antagonism keeps becoming more and more evident. This difference had been reduced to a minimum in the previous Parliament, when both President and Parliament were jointly implementing policy of reform.
I do not think that this bill would be approved in today’s reality.
Government’s meetings have been easily revealing the crisis in the government. Hierarchy of the meetings has changed dramatically. Those on totally different levels of the structure started to address each other with absolutely rude words and phrases. This meant that the ministers, who could not understand each other anymore, allowed themselves to criticize each other before the President. The government has divided into two groups: one that we could freely call ‘reformers’ and the other team that opposes reforms and its members’ incomes and career fully depends on non-reformed system. Tension between these two teams has become critical just before the talks on constitutional changes have emerged again.
It is quite possible that nothing would change and talks on constitutional changes will remain as nothing more but mere talks. But on the other hand it is also very probable that the Cabinet of the Ministers with “weak” prime minister would be created, Zhvania would be appointed as its leader and he would start creating his position in the executive branch. President would probably facilitate to such developments and therefore the Opposition is afraid of Zhvania’s becoming as a ‘weak prime-minister’ too.
When the opposition between the two teams became critically high, President had to name the winner between them to discharge the conflict. When Shevardnadze named Zhvania as possible candidate for the Prime Minister’s post, one of the teams won symbolically. But the other team started to act immediately, and many events that we witness today are the results of such activities.
It looks like, that the Cabinet of the Minister would not be composed under a ‘team principle’. In the best case, it would be an intermediate solution: certain segment of the Cabinet would consist of the members with similar way of thinking. However, there is a perspective, that situation might improve.
Zhvania’s shift to executive branch of power is his chance, maybe the last one or the first one. He never had such chance and he wants to use it. However, he might be out of game tomorrow. I already think of the time, when Zhvania with his team might stay out of power, if they never used the chance.
Concerning the talks about the opposition between Shevardnadze and Zhvania, I think that there is no opposition in mentality and in the way that these two imagine future of the country. In the future, Shevardnadze might be regarded as a ‘father’ of a democratic Georgia in one case, or as most corrupted President of a deteriorated country. Actually, this would depend on his successor. In this view interests of Shevardnadze and Zhvania coincide very well.