Constitutional Changes in Armenia: Challenges and Georgian Experience
Armenia’s possible transition to a parliamentary republic proposed by the new draft constitution will have a positive effect since it implies collegiate governance.

Nevertheless, such a system has also shortcomings, because it may develop into a "supermajority" system amid the lack of checks and balances, experts said at the Media Center.      

The specialized commission set up by President Sargsyan to prepare the constitutional amendments has recently publicized the first seven chapters of the new draft Constitution of Armenia. The chapters have sparked discussions among experts and on social networks.    

Under the amendments, the current mixed system of representation in the National Assembly including both party-list and single-mandate ballots will be replaced by a 100-percent proportional system, with 101 members of the new legislative body to be elected by party lists only for a period of five years. In case none of the forces is able to form a parliamentary majority, a second round of parliamentary elections is held to form a "solid majority" comprising two parties or party coalitions with the highest number of votes. The parties participating in the elections are to nominate a candidate for prime minister and present the key points of the supposed program of the Government.

The President, in turn, is elected for 7 years and cannot run for a second term (the current Constitution says that the President is elected for 5 years but cannot run for the third presidency in a row). Unlike the current system, the new draft Constitution implies no direct presidential elections. The President is elected by a board of electors comprising members of the Parliament and representatives of the local administrations.

The speakers included: Ara Ghazaryan, expert on international law; Hovhannes Galstyan, expert at the Institute of Public Policy, Analysis and Dialogue; and Giorgi Gotsiridze, expert from Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, who joined the discussion via a video call. 

Galstyan believes unlike Georgia, where the process of reforms followed the political disturbances, Armenia has no need for constitutional changes. His viewpoint is confirmed by public opinion polls.

The survey conducted by the APR Group ("Advanced Public Research Group" NGO) fixes that 60% of Armenia's citizens do not support the constitutional changes. Galstyan thinks that the Constitution is first of all a political document and the legitimacy and efficiency of its adoption depends on the balance of political forces and public sentiments rather than formal procedures. "The public are fenced from these processes and we see the monopoly of the Republican Party of Armenia. Under such conditions it is not clear how the changes can contribute to the democratization of the country," said Hovhannes Galstyan.

Gotsiridze said the situation in Armenia will tangibly differ from the one in Georgia if Armenia switches to a parliamentary regime. Georgia lacks the concept of "solid majority." If none of the forces crossing the threshold is able to obtain an absolute majority of votes, talks are launched to form a coalition. If no agreement is reached within a certain period of time, the President dissolves the Parliament and sets new elections date.

The President of Georgia has broader powers than envisaged by the draft constitutional reforms in Armenia. The President of Georgia is directly elected and the President has the right to veto certain decisions of the Government and to grant citizenship. The Georgian Constitution does not specify the powers of the Prime Minister and the President in the foreign political issues. "The situation became uncertain when the Association Agreement was being signed with the European Union. Nevertheless, it was the Prime Minister who signed the document," said Gotsiridze.

Meanwhile, Armenian experts point out that the Georgian Constitution nails down a system of checks and balances. Armenia lacks such a system and it is fraught with creation of a "supermajority system."

The formation of the special commission for constitutional reforms in Armenia was unexpected, Galstyan said, while in Georgia it was the result of mass political protests. In Georgia the commissions for constitutional reforms comprised experts and representatives from both authorities and opposition, while in Armenia the commissions almost completely consist of representatives of the ruling party. In Georgia decisions were passed by 2/3 of votes, while in Armenia the voting is held behind the closed doors and it is not clear how decisions are made.

Arshaluys Mghdesyan, Editor-Coordinator

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