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Armenian Opposition Slams Authorities Over Constitutional Reform Provision


A protester holding an Armenian constitution, undated

A protester holding an Armenian constitution, undated

Armenia’s leading opposition parties have criticized the Armenian authorities for their reluctance to at least listen to the recommendations of a Council of Europe advisory body and remove a controversial provision on the so-called “second round” in parliamentary elections from the draft amendments to the Constitution.

Despite recommendations from the Venice Commission, a top Armenian expert involved in the Constitutional Reform Commission said on Monday that Armenia is likely to keep the option aimed at ensuring the formation of a “stable majority” after legislative polls.

In the seven chapters of Armenia’s draft new Constitution published last 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 National Assembly 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.

Deputy head of the opposition Heritage party Armen Martirosian believes that if the provision is removed, the whole reform will become “meaningless” for the authorities.

Heritage and another parliamentary opposition party, Armenian National Congress (HAK), 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. Last year Sarkisian publicly pledged not to seek a top government post if the constitutional reform was carried out, but theoretically as leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) he will be able to remain influential in Armenian politics even without a formal post if his party manages to retain its majority in the next National Assembly.

Top HHK representatives give assurances, however, that the proposed constitutional amendments create a level-playing field for all parties and are aimed at ensuring the country’s further democratization.

But Heritage’s Martirosian remains unconvinced. “There is a clear desire on the part of these authorities to ensure a guaranteed reproduction of power with Serzh Sarkisian at its head. And that is only possible in conditions of this ‘stable majority’ in parliament, which is contrary to the spirit of parliamentarianism,” he said.

“In democracies throughout the world the parliament is there for blocs, for crises to be solved through creating new or dissolving old blocs and alliances or through new parliamentary elections,” Martirosian added.

HAK member Vladimir Karapetian also believes that carrying out this proposed constitutional reform is a “matter of life” for the HHK. “Even the Venice Commission says that such problems should be settled in the Electoral Code. And it is very logical, because it is the Electoral Code that is for concrete elections, and the Constitution is for a much longer period of time,” he said.

But senior HHK representative Samvel Nikoyan countered that solving the issue of “stable majority” is very important for Armenia and that is why it should be dealt with in the Constitution. “As a ruling political force we see the problems… we also see the bitter experience of some European countries that have constantly found themselves in government crises,” he said.

Both Heritage and the HAK are against the proposed constitutional amendments expected to be put to a popular referendum in late 2015 or early 2016. They have signaled their intention to hold rallies against the reform.

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