“SUPER PRIME-MINISTERIAL’ SYSTEM OR EFFICIENT GOVERNANCE?’
26.03.2018
12:36
Most e-poll respondents believe there are attempts to build a totalitarian state in Armenia.
To reveal the moods among users of Facebook, the most influential social platform in Armenia, the Public Journalism Club carried out an e-poll through Polls for pages tool. The e-poll sought to find out the attitude of the Armenian Facebook users to the changes in the governance system initiated by the authorities to introduce the parliamentary system.

Most e-poll respondents believe there are attempts to build a totalitarian state in Armenia.

To reveal the moods among users of Facebook, the most influential social platform in Armenia, the Public Journalism Club carried out an e-poll through Polls for pages tool. The e-poll sought to find out the attitude of the Armenian Facebook users to the changes in the governance system initiated by the authorities to introduce the parliamentary system.

The e-poll covered the timeframe between February 13 and March 7.

4510 users visited the e-poll virtual platform and 22%, i.e. 964 of them expressed their position. 91.4% of the respondent users are from Armenia. The respondents answered the question below:

Do you consider the initiatives to grant the future Armenian prime-minister with broad powers (government sessions will be held closed-door; the National Security Service and the Police will report to the Prime Minister; the right to grant pardon will pass from the president to the prime-minister, etc.) mostly as:

  • promotion of efficient governance?
  • promotion of authoritarian governance? or
  • an attempt to build a totalitarian state?

58.9% of the respondents (568 users) believe that granting the prime minister with broad powers is an attempt by the authorities to build a totalitarian state and 32.4% (312 users) consider the changes to be aimed at promoting authoritarian governance.

Only 8.7% of the users (84 users) believe that such changes are made in an attempt to improve governance efficiency and transparency.

Over 90% of the respondents consider the governance system changes initiated by the ruling Republican Party as an attempt to introduce authoritarian or totalitarian political culture.

Justifications and concerns of the legislative changes in the governance system

The RA Constitution amended by the constitutional referendum of December 6, 2015 will fully take effect starting from April 2018 when the 2nd presidential term of current Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan expires.

According to the RA Constitution, the country will be headed then by the prime minister elected by the majority of the RA National Assembly deputies.

Before the new Constitution fully takes effect, the ruling Republican Party initiates amendments in a number of laws to grant fairly broad powers to the future Armenian prime minister by passing to him the powers of the "strong president" in the current semi-presidential system.

The legislative amendments are officially justified by the need to define the scope of the public governance system agencies and their set-up procedure in compliance with the Constitution and regulate the other relations concerning such agencies.

Independent experts and opposition representatives qualify the introduced system as "super prime-ministerial" system or "prime-ministerial dictatorship" rather than a parliamentary system.

"We get an institute of monarch prime-minister instead of monarch president rather than party governance,” Avetik Ishkhanyan, Chairman of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia, said as he assessed the new system.

Unlike the semi-presidential system with quite an influential prime minister's institute potentially counterbalancing the president's institute and being a certain power center within the authorities, in the current parliamentary system the only power center is the prime minister granted with "super" powers. Moreover, the legislative amendments come to enhance that very institute of prime-minister rather than the government.

"In Armenia, these legislative packages introduce a system of prime minister's dictatorship,” such assessment of the current amendments was given by Nikol Pashinyan, head of Yelk oppositional faction in NA.

Along with the powers already set forth in the Constitution and laws, amendments to a number of laws extend most broadly the list of prime-minister’s powers. For instance, the NSS (National Security Service) and the police directly report to the future prime minister. At the same time, the legislative changes considerably reduce the transparency of the Government’s activity.

Controversial legislative amendments

The draft Law on Public Governance System provides that the agencies below will report directly to the Prime Minister:

  • the National Security Service;
  • the Police;
  • the State Guard Service; and
  • the State Oversight Service

According to the draft Law, the heads of the agencies reporting to the prime minister shall be appointed and dismissed by the prime minister. The heads of such agencies shall be accountable directly to the prime minister.

Human rights activist Avetik Ishkhanyan believes that such a setting is extremely dangerous and provides fertile ground for recurrence of bloody events like the ones of March 1, 2008.

"If the parliamentary political forces are really concerned over non-recurrence of March 1 events, the police should turn into Ministry of the Interior and the NSS – into the National Security Ministry and they both should be placed under parliamentary oversight. As for investigative agencies, there should be a separate law making them independent from the prime minister."

The State Oversight Service may serve as an effective tool in the hands of the prime minister to control the state system entities. The Service is an agency with quite a wide spectrum of oversight functions and powers.

According to the draft Law on Pardon, the prime minister shall present to the president proposals on granting or declining pardon to the petitioner. Such petitions shall be first examined by the Pardon Commission set up by the prime minister but its opinion is of advisory nature for the prime minister.

In other words, the right to grant pardon also falls within the prime minister's powers.

The draft Law on the Government Structure and Activity envisages that the government sessions shall be held closed-door. This decision is justified by the need to conduct its sessions in an atmosphere of most effective, free and substantial discussions.

The said amendments provide that "no Government member shall be entitled to impart without Prime Minister's permission any information on any progress in discussing any issues considered by the Government".

"This means the end; so all the mechanisms of public oversight and accountability are closing down. And I can say for sure that further initiatives to hold all the other sessions closed-door will follow like a wave during the year; this was still the 1st step," Shushan Doydoyan, Founding Chairperson of the Freedom of Information Center, says.

Conclusion

The Facebook respondents share the views voiced by the civil society and opposition representatives. The e-poll results suggest that the justifications and explanations presented by the authorities were not convincing and the approval of governance system is at a critically low level.

However, the relatively low level of users’ interest in the topic (out of the 4510 users who visited the e-poll site, only 22% (964) voted) suggests that the public at large presented on the virtual platform do not consider the topic important or are not interested in it. Such behavior may be caused by the factors below:

  • general lack of information on the topic;
  • low awareness of concerns voiced by the civil society and the opposition;
  • viewing the voiced risks and concerns unimportant.

E-poll details

The e-poll covered the timeframe between February 13 and March 7.

The e-poll was posted on the PJC Media Center initiative Facebook page with over 6.500 followers and paid advertising opportunity was used to ensure wide public involvement. The advertising targeted all the Facebook users above 18 from all the regions (marzes) of Armenia. The e-poll language was Armenian.

Out of the 4510 users visiting the e-poll virtual platform, 22%, i.e. 964 users expressed their position. 91.4% of the respondents are from Armenia, 3.3% from Russia, 1.4% from USA, 0.8% from Germany.

The remaining 3.1% of the respondents are from Georgia, Belgium, United States, Sweden, France, Canada, Poland, United Kingdom, Spain, Greece, Austria and United Arab Emirates.

The respondents answered the question below with 3 possible options:

Do you consider the initiatives to grant the future Armenian prime-minister with broad powers (government sessions will be held closed-door; the National Security Service and the Police will report to the Prime Minister; the right to grant pardon will pass from the president to the prime-minister, etc.) mostly as:

  • promotion of efficient governance?
  • promotion of authoritarian governance? or
  • an attempt to build a totalitarian state?

The positions expressed by the e-poll respondents are confidential and not subject to publication.

The respondents also had the opportunity to take part in the e-poll anonymously, without exposing their identity.

76% of the respondents are male and 24% are female.

The Public E-Polls Project is carried out by Public Journalism Club NGO.

 

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