Armenia must have thorough discussion on constitutional amendments
The NHC supports a letter sent yesterday to the Council of Europe and the OSCE urging them not to support proposed constitutional amendments that would strengthen the incumbent president's position in Armenia.
- The Armenian authorities have not undertaken the necessary discussions in the public on the potential need of such amendments, and lack the necessary trust in the public to make their projected positive result credible, says Lene Wetteland, Armenia advisor in the NHC. - Taking into consideration the experiences from previous elections and referendums, the Armenian public has little reason to trust that the authorities' proposal to amend the Constitution is to the best and that a referendum will be carried out in a free and fair manner.
In September 2013, President Sargsyan of Armenia made two controversial statements from which the first was that Armenia was to join the Customs Union with Russia rather than finalizing the rapprochement with the EU. Secondly, he issued a decree establishing a Commission to draft amendments to the Constitution. The process has been speedy, as Armenia is already a member of the Customs Union, and amendments to the Constitution have been presented and plans for a referendum are near.
However, in none of the processes has the public been adequately included in the discussion, and the proposed amendments do not address the issues that activists and experts have in fact raised as problematic. The most important proposal from the Commission is a transitioning of the governance system from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary one, where the national elections will be held for the National Assembly only and the MPs will elect a president. In consequence, there are concerns that the amendments to the Constitution have the main purpose of allowing President Sargsyan and the Republican Party to remain in power.
The NHC strongly supports a recent statement sent by the Armenian Citizen Observer Initiative to international organizations who are providing assistance in the democracy building processes in Armenia, including to Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland. The letter urges these institutions not to support the proposed amendments to the Constitution. They should rather urge Armenia to create a favourable political environment and consensus of major political players and public on the need and necessity for changing the Constitution.
The Citizen Observer Initiative consists of several democracy oriented organisations in Armenia, including Transparency International Armenia and long-term NHC and EPDE partner Helsinki Citizen's Assembly Vanadzor. Together with the HCAV and other partners in Armenia, the NHC has been following the elections and democratic development in Armenia closely since the disputed 2008 elections, when President Sargsyan first came to power. An analysis was presented in a report last year, where the recommendations again urged Armenian authorities to facilitate civic activism and civil society, build trust and confidence and ensure free and fair elections. Read more in our report here.