An advisory body of the Council of Europe (CE) has issued its preliminary opinion on the proposed Armenian constitutional amendments, criticizing the provision of a so-called “second round” in parliamentary elections aimed at forming a “stable majority”.
In their conclusion experts of the Venice Commission welcome the work conducted by the Armenian Constitutional Reform Commission, but also made certain proposals on how to improve the draft constitutional changes.
In chapters 1-7 of the draft new Constitution published in Armenia earlier this month local constitutional law experts suggest turning Armenia into a parliamentary republic with a largely ceremonial president. At the same time, one of the provisions dealing with the formation of the parliament suggests that if no party or bloc of parties can achieve an outright majority, a second round of elections should be held between the two parties or blocs of parties having the largest number of votes. Authors of the new Constitution explain that this way a “stable” majority will always be assured, which will ensure the stable work of the government and eventually the stability of the political system as a whole.
In the judicial system the Venice Commission considers it inadmissible that a political body should interfere in the appointments and dismissals of judges and chairmen of courts of cassation.
The CE’s advisory body encourages the Armenian authorities to continue discussions with all political parties and civil society in order to resolve misunderstandings and ensure as broad support for the reform as possible.
Meanwhile, leading opposition parties in Armenia continue to view the proposed changes to the Constitution as an attempt by President Serzh Sarkisian, whom the current Armenian constitution bars from seeking a third presidential term, to remain in power in some other capacity after completing his tenure in 2018. (Still in April 2014, Sarkisian publicly pledged not to seek a top government post if the constitutional reform was carried out.)
Vladimir Karapetian, a chief foreign-policy spokesman for the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) party, said that the “broad consolidation” that the Venice Commission attaches so much importance to does not exist in Armenia.
“If the authorities listen to what the Commission says then the referendum should not be held, because it is clearly written [in the conclusion] that for the form of government to be changed a broad political and social consolidation is needed. We see that besides just one party no other party has given its consent to this option,” the HAK representative said.
At the same time, Karapetian expressed an opinion that the authorities may have deliberately included the “parliamentary election runoff” provision in the draft amendments knowing that it would be inappropriate for international experts so that they could “negotiate” over it and eventually remove it from the Constitution, while including it in the electoral code later.
“And that would be presented as a sign of consensus, as a step to get support from a number of political parties,” he said.
Samvel Nikoyan, a member of the executive body of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), meanwhile, took in their stride the opinions expressed by experts and opposition representatives. At the same time, he stopped short of presenting an HHK position on the matter. “It would be correct if the Constitutional Reform Commission first discussed it and expressed its view on the matter. And, of course, we will also have a discussion,” he said.
Constitutional Reform Commission member Gagik Ghazinian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that they were still working on the Venice Commission’s preliminary opinion and, therefore, could not comment on its proposals yet.