Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian on Tuesday brushed aside claims by some lawyers and opposition politicians that the upcoming election by the Armenian parliament of the country’s next president is unconstitutional.
Armenia’s constitution controversially amended in 2015 stipulates that the president of the republic shall no longer be elected by popular vote because of the country’s transition to a parliamentary system of government. The National Assembly is expected to choose President Serzh Sarkisian’s successor on March 2, just over one month before the end of his final term in office.
Citing provisional clauses of the amended constitution, some Armenian lawyers critical of the government say that the new constitutional provisions calling for the parliament vote are supposed to take effect only when the next president is sworn in for a seven-year term. The president must therefore be again directly elected by voters, they say.
One of those lawyers, Vahe Grigorian, has accused the authorities of “usurping the people’s power.” Another attorney, Gevorg Gyozalian, alleged on Monday a “constitutional crisis” in the country.
Aram Manukian, a deputy chairman of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), echoed those claims. “It’s so simple and obvious that you don’t have to be a lawyer to understand it,” he said.
But Vartan Poghosian, another legal expert who was personally involved in the constitutional reform, pointed to Article 7 of the amended constitution which has already come into force. He argued that it overturned a previous constitutional provision mandating the president’s election by popular vote. In a newspaper interview, Poghosian also cited another provisional clause which says that lawmakers can pick the next head of state no sooner than 40 days before the end of Sarkisian’s decade-long presidency.
Harutiunian made similar arguments at a news conference in Yerevan. “Things are very clear and any talk of constitutional crisis is just wide off the mark,” he said.
“Please take a more simple look at the matter and don’t be fooled by tricky and complicated legal definitions,” added the minister.
President Sarkisian and is Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) have nominated Armen Sarkissian, a former prime minister who has lived in Britain for nearly 30 years, for the largely ceremonial post of president. Sarkissian formally accepted the nomination late last week.