A state commission formed by President Serzh Sarkisian on Wednesday publicized its draft constitutional amendments envisaging Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic with a largely ceremonial head of state not elected by popular vote.
The amendments reaffirm the commission’s belief that the executive authority in the country must be fully vested in the prime minister and their cabinet formed by the parliamentary majority. The prime minister would also be empowered to pick the chief of staff of Armenia’s armed forces and would become their commander-in-chief in times of war.
By contrast, the president of the republic would be stripped of their presently sweeping powers. Under the amendments submitted to Sarkisian, the head of state would be elected for a 7-year term by an electoral college comprising members of the Armenian parliament and representatives of local governments.
The proposed changes also stipulate that the 131-member National Assembly will be elected only on the party-list basis. That would lead to the abolition of 41 single-seat constituencies that have been critical for Sarkisian’s control of the parliament ensured through his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
However, this change could be offset by another draft amendment mandating the conduct of a second round of voting if no political party or bloc wins a clear parliamentary majority. The run-off parliamentary vote would pit the two leading election contenders against each other.
The constitutional package needs to be formally endorsed by Sarkisian before it can be sent to the parliament for approval. Armenian lawmakers are expected to start debating it in September. The Sarkisian administration is expected to put the amendments on a referendum later this year or early next.
Most Armenian opposition parties are categorically against the proposed switch to the parliamentary republic. They maintain that Sarkisian is keen to stay in power in another capacity after completing his second and final presidential term in 2018.
At least two such parties, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Zharangutyun (Heritage), have signaled their intention to try to scuttle the constitutional reform with street protests.