Saakashvili defends Georgia constitution revamp
President Mikheil Saakashvili defended controversial amendments to Georgia's constitution on Sunday, saying they were designed to strengthen parliament in the former Soviet republic.
The package of constitutional amendments, which was overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers on October 15, will curb presidential powers, beef up the prime minister's role and increase the influence of parliament.
Georgia's opposition alleges the changes are aimed at allowing Saakashvili to stay on as a newly empowered prime minister once his second and final term runs out in 2013.
But in an interview on Sunday with the TV5 Monde channel on the sidelines of a francophone summit in Switzerland, Saakashvili insisted that the most important impact of the changes was to enhance the country's legislature.
The amendements "have strengthened the role of parliament and that is what is important, not whether the prime minister is more or less powerful than the president in the future," Saakashvili said.
Under the changes, some of which will take effect next year and others after Saakashvili leaves office, the president will continue to be directly elected but will hold limited powers in day-to-day government operations.
Many of the president's current powers will be transferred to the prime minister, including the right to name cabinet members and shape government policies, for both domestic issues and international affairs.
The changes also simplify the procedure for parliament to impeach the president and grant local councils more independence.
Saakashvili rose to power in 2003's pro-Western Rose Revolution that ousted the old Soviet elite and was immediately hailed by the West as a role model for democratic change in the former Soviet Union.
But opponents have accused him of becoming increasingly autocratic and of mishandling Georgia's 2008 war with Russia over the pro-Moscow breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
© 2010 AFP