Opposition lawmakers on Tuesday rejected as unconstitutional a government bill that would seriously limit the next Armenian president’s power to grant pardons.
Under Armenia’s radically amended constitution, the head of state to be elected by the parliament next month will play a largely ceremonial role in view of the country’s transition to the parliamentary system of government. Pardoning individuals convicted of various crimes will be one of the few executive powers vested in the presidency.
Article 135 of the constitution stipulates that the president can grant pardons “in a manner and cases defined by the law.” It does not elaborate.
A draft Law on Pardons submitted by the government to the National Assembly makes clear that all presidential decisions on clemency sought by convicts will have to be approved by the prime minister beforehand. The latter would also set up a special advisory commission examining requests for early release from prison and concluding whether they should be granted.
Edmon Marukian, a senior lawmaker representing the opposition Yelk alliance, insisted that the bill runs counter to the relevant constitutional provision.“The president would simply be presented with draft decisions [on pardons] and told to sign them,” argued Marukian. “Yet the constitution says that he is the one who can pardon people.”
Gevorg Petrosian, a parliament deputy from the Tsarukian Bloc, agreed, saying that the president of the republic would be effectively stripped of their constitutional authority to pardon people. He also complained that the bill does not specify the grounds on which the prime minister will be recommending or arguing against presidential pardons.
However, Arpine Hovannisian, a deputy parliament speaker representing the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), denied any contradiction between the proposed law and the constitution. The HHK majority in the parliament will also almost certainly side with the government.
The government is also planning to push through the parliament a number of other bills that would underline the next prime minister’s status as Armenia’s most powerful official. In particular, the premier will head a new Security Council tasked with formulating the country’s policy on national defense. It will be more powerful than a similar presidential body currently advising Sarkisian on national security.
Some observers view these bills as a further indication that Sarkisian is intent on becoming prime minister right after completing his second and final presidential term on April 9. The outgoing president has still not clarified his political plans.