Georgia PM aims to strengthen his role before presidential vote

Thu Nov 22, 2012 11:06am EST
 
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By Margarita Antidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia's new prime minister aims to change the constitution to boost his powers before a presidential vote next year, he said on Thursday, but will not try to impeach rival President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Bidzina Ivanishvili won power in a parliamentary election last month that ended Saakashvili's nine-year political dominance but left Georgia with an uneasy "cohabitation" government, with the president still in place, at least until October.

"We are not going to initiate the (president's) impeachment," Ivanishvili told a news conference, adding: "We will probably initiate constitutional amendments which will be clear to everyone."

Under Ivanishvili, authorities have arrested more than 10 former senior officials, including an ex-interior minister and the army chief-of-staff, raising opposition fears of a purge and drawing criticism from Saakashvili's allies in the West.

Parliament approved the constitutional changes - giving more powers to the legislature and the prime minister - before the election which brought the billionaire businessman to office - but they were due to take effect only after the October 2013 presidential election.

"We want these amendments to come into force earlier," Ivanishvili said. "Not after the election in October 2013, but earlier."

Ivanishvili signaled that relations with the West were a priority by making Brussels his first foreign trip last week. But he said a planned visit to the United States would be postponed until next year.

NATO and European Union leaders upbraided the prime minister over the arrest of political opponents as he visited Brussels and Ivanishvili said afterwards that his four-day absence had harmed the government's work.   Continued...