Georgia is a democratic republic with a strong executive presidency. In August 1995 a new constitution replaced the 1992 decree on state power, which had been instituted as an interim constitution after Georgia declared its independence. The new constitution reestablished the presidency, which had been created in 1991 but was abolished after the country’s first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was ousted in 1992. According to the 1995 constitution, the president, who is head of state, is directly elected to a maximum of two five-year terms. The president is authorized to appoint a council of ministers headed by a minister of state (the new constitution abolished the office of prime minister). The council of ministers is ultimately accountable to the president.
The constitution also established a new unicameral (single-chamber) legislature consisting of 235 members, who are elected to four-year terms. Of its members, 150 are elected on a proportional basis (with the number of delegates from each party corresponding to the proportion of the total vote that party receives) and 85 are elected in single-member districts (one elected delegate per territorial unit). The new legislature replaced the State Council, which had been created in October 1992; between 1992 and 1995 the chairperson of the State Council had held executive powers in place of a president.
Each of Georgia’s autonomous political entities—the republics of Ajaria and Abkhazia and the region of South Ossetia—has its own locally elected government, consisting of a legislature and a local leader. The local governments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not recognized by the central government, however, because of the long-standing secessionist conflicts in these regions. Abkhazia is essentially independent, and South Ossetia is almost independent. Ajaria does not seek secession from Georgia; its local government cooperates with the central government and recognizes the constitution of Georgia as the guiding force for local legislation. For purposes of local administration, the remainder of Georgia is divided into prefectures headed by prefects appointed by the Georgian president, who report to the central government.
Georgia’s judiciary is based on a civil-law system. The Supreme Court is the highest court. Its judges are elected by the legislature, on the recommendation of the president, for a term of ten years. Georgia also has a Constitutional Court, which rules on the constitutionality of new legislation. The president, the legislature, and the Supreme Court each appoint three of the nine judges of the Constitutional Court, who serve for ten years.
All citizens aged 18 and older may vote in Georgia. In the general elections of October 1999, 20 parties and 13 coalitions presented parliamentary candidates. The Citizens’ Union of Georgia (a center-right party formed in 1993 by Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze) won the most seats, followed by the All-Georgia Revival Union. No other parties won enough votes to gain representation in parliament. However, candidates with no political affiliation won a number of parliamentary seats.
During the Soviet period, Georgia had no armed forces separate from the centrally controlled Soviet security system. After the republic declared its independence in 1991, the Georgian government set a high priority on developing a unified national military. Georgia’s defense forces now include an army of 8,620 troops (with plans to increase the army to 20,000), a navy of 1,040, and an air force of 1,330. All males must begin a two-year period of military service when they reach the age of 18.
Georgia was admitted to the United Nations (UN) in July 1992. In 1993 Georgia became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose political alliance of most of the former Soviet republics. In 1994 the republic joined the Partnership for Peace program, which provides for limited military cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Georgia is also a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).