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Armenia May Withdraw Parliamentary ‘Runoff’ Election Option


Armenia -- Member of the Constitutional Reform Commission Vardan Poghosian at a press conference. 17July, 2015

Armenia -- Member of the Constitutional Reform Commission Vardan Poghosian at a press conference. 17July, 2015

A member of the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRU) drafting amendments to Armenia’s Basic Law does not rule out that a controversial provision on holding a second round of parliamentary elections will eventually be removed from the draft.

The change of heart comes only days after the CRU insisted on keeping the option despite criticism from the Venice Commission, a prestigious advisory body of the Council of Europe consisting of independent experts in the field of constitutional law.

In the chapters of Armenia’s draft new Constitution published so far 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.

In its preliminary opinion Venice Commission experts recommended that the provision that is very rare in parliamentary democracies be removed from the Constitution and instead be included in the Electoral Code.

Talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Thursday, CRU member Vardan Poghosian said he could not exclude anything, including such an option. But he again defended the provision, saying that the commission still tends to keep its idea in the Constitution.

“But in what circumstances this second round will be held should be dealt with in the electoral code,” he added.

Poghosian explained that the parliamentary “runoff” election option does not exclude the emergence of coalitions after the first round of voting. “We’ve introduced the idea of the second round only to avoid a situation when political parties or blocs of parties cannot form a stable parliamentary majority after the first round of elections and then instead of forming coalitions behind the voters’ back, they will have an option to have a second round in which the first two parties or blocs of parties that gathered the largest number of votes will take part and will have an opportunity to form alliances with the rest of the parties voted into the parliament. So, the voter will decide whether one bloc or another can be trusted to have a majority and form a government,” he said.

According to Poghosian, CRU members have expressed their desire to meet with Venice Commission experts in the near future, but no reply from international experts has been received yet.

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.

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