|Georgia approves power shift as opposition cries foul|
|October 15, 2010|
By Margarita Antidze
TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia's parliament approved a system strengthening its own and the prime minister's powers on Friday under reforms the president's critics say will allow him to rule after his term ends in 2013.
The constitutional reforms change the ex-Soviet republic's strongly presidential system to a "mixed" one with a more powerful prime minister and parliament, starting in 2013 when President Mikheil Saakashvili's final term as president expires.
The reforms answer calls from Georgia's Western allies for a more balanced system with a stronger parliament.
They say Saakashvili is copying his Russian nemesis Vladimir Putin, who stepped down as president to become prime minister in 2008 and is widely seen as Russia's paramount leader.
Saakashvili, 42, co-led the 2003 "Rose Revolution" that ousted Georgia's corrupt ex-Soviet old guard, but has faced criticism over his own commitment to democracy.
He said last month he did not wish to cling to power. The government argues that under the constitutional change no single official will have ultimate authority.
"We achieved two main goals. We will have a balance between branches of power and will secure more stable work of the government in the future," David Darchiashvili, a ruling party MP said at the session.
Saakashvili's critics are not convinced.
"Saakashvili and his administration are just strengthening the position of prime minister while having the parliament as weak as it was," Irakly Alasania, an opposition politician, told Reuters.
"Saakashvili does not serve the constitution. He uses the constitution to serve his ambition," he said.
MORE POWER TO PM
The reform gives parliament the power to appoint the prime minister to a strong executive government. The president keeps some powers over foreign affairs, the military and in periods of emergency or a no-confidence vote in the government.
The amendments were passed in the third and final reading on Friday in parliament with 112 in favor and just five against. The ruling party commands the necessary two-thirds support.
Saakashvili has worked to shed Georgia's Soviet legacy and drag the country of 4.5 million people into the European mainstream. Energy reform, a crackdown on corruption and an economic overhaul have attracted investment and driven growth.
But critics say he has monopolized power and Western concern persists over his record on democracy and free media.
Saakashvili's standing in the West was dented further by a war in 2008, when Russia crushed a Georgian assault on the rebel region of South Ossetia after months of Russian baiting.
Council of Europe experts have said the reform is a "step forward," but advised the addition of more powers to parliament.
(Editing by Charles Dick)
© Thomson Reuters 2010. All rights reserved.
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