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Lawyers Criticize Armenian Constitutional Amendments


Armenia - President Serzh Sarkisian is holding his right hand on the Bible and the Constitution during his inauguration, Yerevan,09Apr2013

Armenia - President Serzh Sarkisian is holding his right hand on the Bible and the Constitution during his inauguration, Yerevan,09Apr2013

About two dozen Armenian lawyers have launched a campaign against the proposed amendments to Armenia’s Constitution, discarding them as “a waste of resources” aimed at serving the interests of the ruling party.

The lawyers say they are currently involved in studying the 15 chapters of the new draft Constitution released by the expert commission drafting the amendments to expose what they describe as “dangerous points”.

Some legal experts working in European countries have also joined the campaign.

Lawyer Gevorg Gyozalian says they are not going to participate in any substantive discussion concerning the new Constitution and will not submit any proposals to the Constitutional Reform Commission as they believe that there is no need for constitutional changes in Armenia at this stage. They believe Armenia’s current problems are not connected with the Constitution.

“If any Constitution, no matter what is written in it, doesn’t work, what is the purpose of changing it? When we try to understand what the purpose is, we come to the conclusion that the authorities have set themselves a task of changing the form of government. But Armenia cannot be a testing ground. Everything here should be based on objective needs and one cannot, based on the interests of certain entities, change a document like the Constitution,” Gyozalian says.

Armenia adopted its current Constitution in 1995. It was amended through a popular referendum a decade later. “Now it is being changed in 2015, and since a culture of changing [the Constitution] is being formed, in 2025 someone may come and change it again, this is ridiculous,” the lawyer adds.

“The current Constitution says that entrepreneurs cannot be members of the National Assembly and the government, but we see the opposite. The law does not have a big role here, and it is not through changing this law that people’s lives will improve, because no document says that a judge should take bribes… And that’s the problem, and this commission has not been able to prove the objective necessity in conditions of which the Constitution should be changed.”

The constitutional amendments proposed by the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) essentially turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic with a largely ceremonial president.

Armenia’s leading opposition parties view the proposed 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.

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.

The constitutional package will need to be formally endorsed by President Sarkisian before it is sent to the Parliament for approval. Armenian lawmakers are expected to start debating it in September. A CRC member said on Wednesday that the constitutional referendum could be held already in November.

At least two major opposition parties, the Armenian National Congress and Heritage, have so far signaled their intention to try to scuttle the constitutional reform with street protests.

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