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‘Large-Scale’ Constitutional Reform Discussed In Armenia


Daniel Ioannisian, Coordinator of the Union of Informed Citizens, March 11, 2020

Beyond the constitutional amendment concerning seven judges of the Constitutional Court that Armenians are going to vote on in next month’s referendum, Armenia also considers carrying out a ‘large-scale’ reform of its basic law, according to an expert.

Coordinator of the Union of Informed Citizens Daniel Ioannisian, who represents civil society in the commission set up to draft constitutional amendments, said the body has already held two meetings, outlining the scope of changes.

“My impression is that we are going to deal with not just some minor changes, but with quite large-scale ones,” he said on Wednesday.

The expert said that four working groups have been formed for more frequent meetings. All meetings are held behind closed doors, and, according to Ioannisian, the range of issues discussed is large – from expanding opportunities for holding referendums to restoring direct presidential elections, changing the provision on ‘stable parliamentary majority’ and lowering the age of voters.

Ioannisian found it difficult to say what outcome the current discussions will have. “We are still at a stage where we are discussing what should be discussed,” he said.

The commission, which was formed at the beginning of the year, is chaired by Armenia’s representative to the European Court of Human Rights. It also includes the minister of justice, the head of the parliament’s standing committee on legal affairs, the ombudsman, one representative from the General Assembly of Judges, two representatives from non-governmental organizations, as well as six lawyers and one representative from each of the three parliamentary factions.

Initially it was thought that a referendum on large-scale constitutional changes could be held at the end of 2020, but then Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian expressed the opinion that the referendum could be combined with the next parliamentary elections, which are due in 2023. But Ioannisian believes it would be good to have a constitutional referendum preceding parliamentary elections.

“The Commission is also discussing issues related to the formation of the National Assembly, such as the issue of so-called stable majority. Naturally, these are issues that must be resolved before elections to the National Assembly and cannot be resolved simultaneously with these elections,” he said, adding that the constitutional referendum and subsequent changes in the election laws should be completed at least one year before the elections.

According to the prime minister’s decision, the concept of constitutional amendments should be ready by April, and the draft amendments themselves should be prepared by September 1. Ioannisian hopes that these deadlines will be revised to give the Commission more time for such a “large-scale” draft.

Taron Simonian, a representative of the opposition Bright Armenia party in the Commission, agrees that while constitutional changes should be drafted as quickly as possible, their quality should not be jeopardized because of that.

From the outset Bright Armenia stated that they will seek to have changes of fundamental importance to them included in the draft, including the abolishment of the ‘stable majority’ provision and ending what it describes as the “super-prime-ministerial system”, in which the incumbent prime minister, as the opposition believes, wields disproportionately broad powers.

“We participate in the meetings of the Commission with our agenda… We will continue to promote this agenda and expect serious changes in the Constitution. But if we see that our partners want rather superfluous changes, we will naturally express our negative position,” Simonian said.

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