Opposition lawmakers denounced as unconstitutional on Thursday government plans to create the post of first deputy prime minister who will be appointed after Armenia becomes a parliamentary republic in April.
Under a government bill debated by the National Assembly, the first deputy premier will be one of the members of a new security body to be headed by the next Armenian prime minister, the country’s most powerful official.
Edmon Marukian, a leader of the opposition Yelk bloc, argued that Armenia’s constitution says only that the prime minister can have up to three deputies responsible for various policy areas.
“The constitution does not single out any of them,” said Marukian. “It doesn’t say that one of them shall be first deputy prime minister while the two others just deputy prime ministers, which in essence means a hierarchy.”
“Unless we correct this now, we will have an unconstitutional law,” he added during the heated debate.
Artur Hovannisian, a deputy justice minister who presented the bill to lawmakers, denied that. “I absolutely do not agree with your position,” he said. “The constitution does not contain any restrictions on this issue.”
Hovannisian did acknowledge, though, that the first deputy prime minister will have more powers than the two other vice-premiers. In particular, he or she will run the government “in the prime minister’s absence,” added the official.
The planned creation of the new government post is seen by some opposition figures and pundits as another sign that President Serzh Sarkisian intends to stay in power as prime minister after completing his final presidential term in April. The outgoing president has shed little light on his plans so far.
Nikol Pashinian, another Yelk leader, charged that Sarkisian has broken a pledge to let Prime Minister Karen Karapetian retain his post after Armenia’s transition to the parliamentary system of government. “In order to mitigate this cheating process a little, he is giving [Karapetian] a consolation prize: the post of first deputy prime minister,” he said.
Pashinian also likened the constitution, controversially amended in 2015, and new laws stemming from it to a “suit tailor-made for Serzh Sarkisian.”