Armenia will maintain its current parliamentary form of government, but will scrap a controversial provision that gives the political party or bloc that wins in general elections additional seats in the National Assembly to form a “stable majority,” a member of the commission drafting constitutional changes said.
The provision criticized by the opposition was designed by authors of the 2015 constitution by which Armenia made a switch from a presidential republic to a parliamentary one. They argued then that a country that is in a de-facto state of war cannot afford to have elections as a result of which no political party or bloc can form a government.
Daniel Ioannisian, a civil-society representative to the specialized commission working on constitutional amendments, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun) after a regular sitting of the body on Saturday that a decision had been made that Armenia will remain a parliamentary republic. At the same time, he said, the “stable majority” provision will not be included in the new constitution.
“[Former] authorities tried to present the deficit of democracy as stability, but we are convinced that only democracy is stable. There is hardly a more warring country than Israel, but there is no such mechanism in Israel. There is no such mechanism in any parliamentary country in the world, except San Marino. It was practiced in Greece for a while, but eventually the Greeks rejected it,” Ioannisian said.
He said that the commission is also discussing other issues, including a switch to an all-proportional system of representation instead of the mixed system used in the past two elections in which besides political parties and blocs candidates were also competing in so-called territorial rating ballots.
Ioannisian said that discussions also focused on issues like the voting age and the possibility of expanding the powers of the president and electing the president through a popular vote rather than through a ballot cast by parliament.
“It is not a question of returning to the semi-presidential model of government, because the main difference between the semi-presidential model and the parliamentary model is in who the head of the executive branch of power is. In the model we are looking at it is the prime minister who will be the head of the executive,” the representative to the constitutional commission said.
Changes, according to Ioannisian, are also envisaged in the judicial system. In particular, he said, the commission discusses the issue of having one Supreme Court instead of the current Constitutional Court and the Court of Cassation. Ioannisian expressed a hope that as a result of these changes, constitutional justice will become more accessible to citizens. “This new court will have three chambers – the administrative, criminal and civil chambers. It will be both the third tier and the instance administering constitutional justice. But there is a very important nuance here. In the case of this model, ordinary courts will have the right to assess the constitutionality of laws,” he said.
The commission for reforming the constitution was set up in January. It consists of 15 members, including Armenia’s justice minister, human rights ombudsman, a representative of the country’s judges, members of the three political forces represented in the parliament and legal scholars chosen by the Justice Ministry.
The commission plans to have a preliminary concept of changes by late October, after which, following public discussions, a final document will be ready by the end of the year. The commission expects to draft constitutional changes by June 2021 after which they are to be put to a nationwide referendum.