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Lame Duck Georgian President Saakashvili Just Got Plucked
2013.03.26 02:26
On March 21, the Georgian Parliament passed constitution amendment limiting presidential powers with the vast majority of votes. Georgian President Mikhael Saakashvili will no longer be able to sack the Georgian Parliament with one swift stroke now that the amendment was passed with 135 votes. 
 
People have been wondering who was going to win the big showdown in the Georgian Parliament on March 21, 2013. Well, it depends on who you ask and still there are those who think Saakashvili's ability to land on his feet is like a cat. No doubt Saakashvili will try to make a big thing of the fact that none of the United National Party's (UNP) MPs voted for the Constitutionalchanges which, essentially, strip the President of his power to dissolve Parliament and appoint a new government of his choosing - at least not in the test vote, anyway. Yet, moments later, every last one of them sided with the majority Georgian Dream coalition in the real vote - the one which counted.

So what happened?

UNM house leader Davit Bakradze was clearly uncomfortable with the position in which he found himself and stated that if Saakashvili were to pull the trigger in that loaded gun he had in his back pocket, and sack the standing government, then he would play no part in the President's new government.

Perhaps he was mindful that if such a thing were to happen then, as Georgian political scientist Alexander Tvalchrelidze warned, the pitchforks would be out up at the Presidential palace with Saakashvili on the pointy end being forced out of office and made to sign his own resignation letter there and then. Some pundits were even predicting that there could again be crowds and blood in the streets.

Yes folks, what comes around goes around, as such the dire popularity ratings for Saakashvili and his UNM fall guys - those who he has said would fall on their swords to protect him - and they too have much to lose once all that has transpired in the last years finally gets investigated. You see, all of the lies and bad mouthing of his own government in the Western media and in the European corridors of power are all about protecting him, or protecting those that have made their fortunes by being part of the network of patronage. No-one else matters now, and the president is likely looking at saving his own hide than trying to have a smooth transition of power on the best of terms. He has dragged down the good name of his country in order to protect himself in the process.

Failing everything else he even duped 23 unwitting fools from the European People's Party to put their names to a litany of lies which, he believed, would somehow force the Georgian government to cave in to his every whim. He even tried his darnedest to drag Angela Merkel and Manuel Barrosso into the ring to stand in front of him or fall on his behalf. They were spectacularly silent about the whole thing, and who could blame them for wanting to keep their distance from this fading star.

In his final act Saakashvili met with all of his UNM "mates" to tell them what to do about the impending debate and vote about the constitutional changes. There was no doubting that these changes were both necessary and wanted by all sides (except for one person), but Saakashvili got Bakradze to ask for a "test vote" before the actual vote. Why? What would be the point of having a test vote where the opposition all - deliberately - vote against something, something which they said (almost in the same sentence) that they would support when the real vote came?

Their reason? To show the world that the Georgian Dream needed their votes. That's all. In truth the Georgian Dream wouldn't have needed their votes if the October 2012 parliamentary elections had been completely fair, especially in the regions when ethnic minorities are more representative and were more prone to intimidation. Some estimates have the UNM support level at only 5% these days, but that's a whole different story.

So, the debate is not only about the constitutional changes. As Bakradze himself said everyone agreed on the "substance" of the changes - they just didn't want to miss this one last opportunity to score some political points with the new government. An hour or so of speeches and arguments for and against the test vote gave way to a mass exodus by the UNM lawmakers who went into a group huddle (no doubt around a telephone to their glorious leader) before returning to the floor. A minor game of ping pong followed and then Usupashvili and Bakradze went off for a small discussion - Usupashvili finally declaring that they weren't going to fight one whim with another so he granted the UNM their pointless test vote, probably in order to let them save face, before the final vote was taken wherein the whole house were unanimous in their support for the amendments to go through.

It is clear now that Saakashvili is a spent force in the Georgian political sphere, a "has-been" and will not be remembered for the good things he did in office but for his deviance, and for having started a war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in 2008. The sitting president would be wise to settle back and relax a little in his final months - let the government get on with running the country and leave the UNM in the hands of Bakradze, who seems to be much more capable of rebuilding their popularity than Saakashvili. That won't be easy as there are still difficult times ahead for his less capable colleagues, e.g the increasingly twitchy Vano Merabishvili and Mayor Gigi Ugulava but, for the sake of Georgia, we should wish him well and try to support his efforts. It is time to turn the page and start a new chapter in the modern development of Georgia, admit past mistakes, hold those who committed serious crimes responsible, and look to the future with a clear purpose to build a modern country that will really shine out as a beacon of democracy.

 

By Hyman Kamenowsky , The Georgian Times
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