By Shakeh Avoyan
The secretary of the Venice Commission, Gianni Buquicchio, expressed hope on Friday that Armenians will approve amendments to their constitution, endorsed by the Council of Europe body, when they go to the polls later this year.
“A revised constitution would facilitate Armenia’s integration into the European structures,” Buquicchio told reporters in Yerevan. “It would also facilitate the prosperity, stability and the resolution of socioeconomic problems facing this country.”
“That is why I personally think it important for the Armenians to reflect on, study the issue and vote for this constitution in accordance with their own conscience,” he said.
The Venice Commission, which advises the Council of Europe on constitutional law, threw its weight behind the package of amendments last July after the Armenian authorities accepted most of its recommendations. Those were aimed at further curtailing sweeping powers enjoyed by the Armenian president.
“Members of the Venice Commission are really happy with this draft and consider it an improvement over the previous one,” Buquicchio said, speaking on the sidelines of an international conference dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the formation of Armenia’s Constitutional Court.
Opening the conference, President Robert Kocharian also defended his draft. “It guarantees substantial progress in protecting human rights and separating and balancing the branches of government,” he said. “The extent of the independence of the judicial branch and local government bodies would also increase.”
The European Union and the United States take a similar view and have both urged Armenians to vote for the proposed changes. But Armenia’s main opposition groups dismiss them as insignificant and have pledged to scuttle their passage at a referendum due in November. In a joint statement issued late Thursday, 17 opposition parties said the real purpose of the reform is to “legitimize the regime and prolong its life.”
Opposition leaders also say that the reform is irrelevant to Armenia’s democratization because the authorities have repeatedly violated key provisions of the existing constitution that guarantee free elections, human rights and the rule of law.
“It is important that the Armenian authorities enforce the revised constitution in good faith,” said Buquicchio. “And when this is not the case, there will always be bodies like the Armenian Constitutional Court that can sanction a bad implementation of the constitution. There is also the international community which will pay a great deal of attention to the Armenian constitution and its proper implementation.”
The Constitutional Court has rarely taken decisions going against the government’s will throughout its ten-year existence. It is therefore not perceived to be an independent and impartial body by the opposition.
Armenian officials admit that persisting popular apathy toward the reform process seriously complicates a “yes” vote at the referendum. To pass, the amendments must be backed by at least one third of the country’s 2.4 eligible voters. Opposition leaders have long accused the authorities of inflating their number for rigging presidential and parliamentary elections. One of them, Aram Karapetian, claimed on Thursday that the authorities are intent on revising it to below 2 million in order to considerably lower the threshold for the adoption of the constitutional changes.
(Photolur photo: Gianni Buquicchio.)