Armenia moves to reform its Constitution: Change of form of government may be on agenda of expert body

Representatives of political parties and experts in Armenia predict that the newly established commission for constitutional reform will also consider the issue of changing the system of government, in this case a transition from the current semi-presidential to parliamentary system.

Constitutional Law Center Board Chairman Gevorg Danielyan, a member of the commission set up by President Serzh Sargsyan’s decree on Wednesday, did not rule this out either.

“The range of issues does not specifically say that the issue should be discussed, but the issue of the form of government may be discussed. The Commission on Constitutional Reform has been tasked with the matter of general reform, especially the entire procedure of the defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms, subjects, competent bodies, methods of implementation,” Danielyan, a former justice minister who heads the Chair of the Department of Constitutional Law at the Yerevan State University today, told ArmeniaNow.

The presidential decree establishing the commission says that it is done “pursuant to the need for the realization of the principle of the rule of law, improvement of constitutional mechanisms to ensure the fundamental human rights and freedoms, guaranteeing full balance of power and raising the efficiency of public administration.”

Remarkably, along with the demand for switching to all-party list elections to the National Assembly major opposition forces have also demanded that the authorities change the form of government, approving a parliamentary model of government.

Among these non-governing political forces were Heritage, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the Prosperous Armenia party, the Armenian National Congress.

At the end of August Republican MP David Harutyunyan, who heads the National Assembly’s State and Legal Affairs Standing Committee, announced that the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) started discussions about changing the Constitution and did not rule out that as a result of the discussions it would be decided to propose a transition to a parliamentary republic.

Meanwhile, RPA spokesman and deputy speaker of parliament Eduard Sharmazanov, after the September 5 meeting of the party’s executive body, said that the issue of switching to a parliamentary republic was not on the political agenda of the authorities.

The member of the Commission on Constitutional Reform said they may discuss the issue of taking the most appropriate elements from varied forms of government.

“We should solve a number of key issues, such as the issue of independence of power, and it is quite possible that separate details of different forms of governance will be discussed, and not that one form or another is immediately preferable, but [we will discuss] what elements can be taken from this or that one, because now there is no state that would have classically, purely one form or another; you will rather meet mixed forms, a priority is given to one form, but certainly forms that are most appropriate for a given country at a given period of time are applied,” explained Danielyan.

No one from the opposition is involved in the commission tasked with elaborating constitutional amendments. Danielyan, however, gave assurances that the commission will work in an open and transparent manner and will also discuss the proposals and views of political forces and all parties concerned.

Armenian Center for National and International Studies expert Edgar Vardanyan thinks that no serious and drastic changes [related to essence rather than form] should be expected from the constitutional amendments.

“My impression is that the current initiative is aimed at strengthening the positions of the ruling class so that its reproduction becomes easier. This is [President] Serzh Sargsyan’s last term in office, and taking into account the comments by David Harutyunyan that he does not rule out a transition to the parliamentary system, I do not exclude that [during the next elections] the RPA’s proportional list will be headed by Serzh Sargsyan, that he will become prime minister who will be de facto head of state,” the expert told ArmeniaNow.

Vardanyan hopes that in this case at least the opposition will try to show that “amendments being made for the reproduction of the government are not what they had expected.”

“It would be reasonable to expect the opposition political parties to insist that these amendments stipulate that the person who currently occupies the presidential post be barred from becoming prime minister… so that at least some positive things can be extracted from these changes. But I don’t think that this demand will be met. In world history there have been different examples when an authoritarian government changed the constitution to extend the term of office of the incumbent president,” said the expert.

The main reaction of major non-governing political forces to the establishment of this commission is that they will wait and see what its agenda is and then will formulate their standpoints.