Ten years after the adoption of a constitution stipulating a semi-presidential form of government the ethnic Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have signaled their intentions to change the self-styled republic’s basic law in favor of vesting more powers in the president and abolishing the prime-ministerial post.
The concept of the reform, which is essentially an opposite to Armenia’s 2015 constitutional amendments replacing the semi-presidential system with a parliamentary form of government, was endorsed by Karabakh’s leader Bako Sahakian who met with members of a commission of legal experts drafting the amendments on August 15.
Sahakian argued that the reform enjoys broad support across Karabakh’s political spectrum and instructed the commission to “elaborate and present draft constitutional amendments within the set time period of time.”
Yet, some politicians in Karabakh, an Armenia-backed former autonomous region of Azerbaijan that broke free from Baku’s control and fought a secessionist war in 1992-1994, fear that the current leadership will abuse the planned reform.
Hayk Khanumian, an opposition lawmaker in Stepanakert, said: “Usually changes in the Constitution are made for the purpose of ensuring the government’s reproduction. This is the main reason why from the very outset we are against changing the current Constitution.”
The concept of the reform conditions the need for the transition by “challenges that require a strong and consolidated government capable of mobilizing the country’s entire resources both in peacetime and in wartime and efficiently reacting to the requirements of a particular situation.”
In early April, Karabakh saw the worst fighting with Azerbaijan since 1994. Dozens of soldiers as well as civilians were killed on both sides in clashes that lasted four days and were put an end to due to a Russia-mediated verbal agreement between the militaries of Azerbaijan and Armenia that effectively returned the conflicting sides to the fragile 1994 truce.
Azerbaijan refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the authorities in Stepanakert, insisting that the region is occupied by Armenia, as internationally mediated talks between Baku and Yerevan on the status of the region continue.
Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry routinely issues statements denouncing elections and referendums organized by ethnic Armenian authorities of the region. Baku similarly condemned the holding in Karabakh of a referendum in 2006 in which a majority of the 145,000-strong region voted in favor of the current Constitution. It is likely to also denounce plans by the Karabakh leadership to hold a new referendum on constitutional amendments.
The endorsed concept of constitutional amendments suggests that presidential and parliamentary elections in Karabakh should be held simultaneously and that after the elections it should be the elected president who will form the next government.
The current Constitution bars Sahakian, whose second five-year term as president ends in 2017, to seek a third consecutive term in office. Meanwhile, the next parliamentary elections in Karabakh are scheduled for 2020.
In Khanumian’s observation, the concept of the reform does not specify who exactly will head the executive during the transitional period.