There are still uncertainties about the constitutional changes, some changes have already been made in the Electoral Code
12.10.2021
12:50
Armenia is committed to conduct electoral and constitutional reforms under the European Union-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement signed in 2017. The agreement signed in Brussels more than three years ago entered into force on March 1, 2021.

What opportunities does the Agreement provide, what work has been done, and to what extent have the goals set out in the Agreement Roadmap been implemented? Representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Vanadzor office of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly touched upon the discussion of these and other issues in Gyumri.

It is already October, and the discussions on the process of constitutional reforms have just started. The Professional Committee on Constitutional Reforms, set up in 2020, was to develop a concept of constitutional reform, to hold public discussions until 2021, and draft constitutional amendments were to be submitted to the RA Prime Minister's Office on June 30. However, the work of the commission was actually suspended after the war.

According to the government's five-year plan, constitutional changes are set to be completed by 2026. Azganush Totolyan, an expert at the Center for Legislative Development and Legal Studies of the Ministry of Justice, said that the ministry had held large-scale discussions with lawyers, the leadership of the Chamber of Advocates, civil society, parliamentary and extra-parliamentary forces to implement constitutional reforms.

At the heart of the discussions was the need for constitutional reform in two main areas: change of the form of governance and the expediency and possibility of uniting the highest courts through the establishment of the Supreme Court.

Azganush Totolyan presented some details of the participants' positions during the discussions. "About 50 percent of the participants were in favor of maintaining the parliamentary rule or at least did not oppose it in principle, about 25 percent were in favor of the presidential or semi-presidential government, and the remaining 25 percent abstained," she said.

According to Totolyan, the ministry proposes to form a council, which will have approximately the same organizational and legal status as the Constitutional Reform Commission, but as a result of wide discussions by the council, three lawyers who are widely respected in the society should be elected by consensus, and documents developed by them submitted to the board should be discussed and later presented to the public.

At the heart of the discussions was also the issue of merging courts, including the expediency of establishing a Supreme Court and unification of the highest courts. "Opinions were different, about 40% were against the unification of the highest courts, about 20% were against the establishment of the Supreme Court," said Azganush Totolyan.

If there are still many uncertainties concerning constitutional changes, some changes have already been made in the Electoral Code.

The initiative to reform the electoral legislation in the Republic of Armenia started in 2018, when the Electoral Code Reform Commission under the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia was established, which developed a draft amendment to the Electoral Code.

The changes in the Electoral Code were on a large scale. One of the significant changes to the Electoral Code and The Law on Parties is the clarification of administrative resources, new mechanisms for transparency and accountability of campaign and political financing, including the transfer of financial control of parties from the Central Electoral Commission to the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Dozens of communities in Armenia, including Gyumri and Vanadzor, will hold proportional elections in October, November, and December.

In Gyumri, Vanadzor, and Yerevan the elections have been held by a proportional system since 2016. The change from 2020 extended to communities with a population of more than 4,000.

Vardine Grigoryan, the report coordinator of the monitoring and democratic institutions of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly in Vanadzor, says that the changes are based on the mechanisms that caused great dissatisfaction during the proportional elections in Gyumri and Vanadzor five years ago: they have been removed.

"Following the example of Vanadzor, the change was made that the voting of the mayor is open, and the case of Gyumri showed how unfair, incomprehensible the distribution of bonuses is, and proved that there is no need for it, just the votes of citizens should be distributed in the same way as the citizens have chosen, and naturally, the thresholds have been lowered, which again gives an opportunity to provide a certain diversity," said Vardine Grigoryan.

According to her, the European Union-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement is a political document, in many ways it is also an economic one, the agreement cannot simply mention internal electoral mechanisms, as it is an internal affair of the country. In this regard, the representative of the HCAV office considers the will to eliminate political corruption important.

 

The discussion on “The constitutional and electoral changes in the context of the RA-EU Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement” is realized in the scope of the “Enabling Civil Society’s Collective Monitoring and Advocacy to Pursue Credible and Systemic Reforms Entailed in the Armenia – EU Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA)” project.

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