A popular referendum on constitutional amendments may be held as early as at the end of November, according to a member of the expert commission working on the draft.
Vardan Poghosian believes this timeframe is “realistic” after the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) has released all 15 chapters of the new Constitution and is going to also publish the transitional provisions soon.
According to him, the full draft and not just parts of it will also be sent to the Venice Commission, which is an advisory body of the Council of Europe.
“We expect the Venice Commission to express its opinion on all chapters, and the final conclusion will be in October when the body’s plenary session is due,” Poghosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).
Earlier, the Commission effectively refused to follow the recommendations of the Venice Commission to remove a controversial provision on the so-called “second round” in parliamentary elections from the draft constitutional amendments.
International experts had also raised concerns about the proposed order of forming the judiciary that they said could undermine the independence of this branch of power.
The constitutional amendments proposed by the CRC essentially turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic with a largely ceremonial president.
Armenia’s leading opposition parties view these changes 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. They also claim there is no consensus on the need to amend the Constitution either.
Representatives of the Sarkisian-led ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) consider the constitutional reform vital for the further democratization of the country and deny that this way the current administration simply solves the issue of its own “reproduction”.
HHK members also see an ongoing substantive debate around the proposed amendments.
CRC member Poghosian also acknowledged that quite a few changes in the final draft had been made after proposals submitted by different organizations and individuals as well as based on critical views offered by media.
He predicted that the referendum on the final reform package was likely to be held already this year. “One of the reasons is that if the referendum is held, for example, next spring, then there will be very little time left to develop the Electoral Code for adoption,” he explained.
According to Poghosian, if discussions unfold on the document in the National Assembly next month, then the month of November will fully correspond to the timeframe envisaged by the law on referendums.