Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Referendums, Democracy and Revolution

A1 Plus reports that the Armenian government has agreed to Council of Europe demands that the long awaited referendum on constitutional ammendments will be held in November. At the same time, the three key requirements of the CE and also the Armenian opposition have albeit reluctantly been accepted by the government.

That is, increasing the power of the parliament, ensuring the independence of the judiciary and making the Mayor of the capital, Yerevan, an electable position.
Tigran Torosyan said that the RA authorities have no discrepancies with the Venice Commission on the key issues. In his words, the reforms are carried out not by request of the Europeans but are essential for the development of the republic.

There's also more good news. According to MP Shavarsh Kocharian, and as requested by the CE, the Armenian opposition is also ready to return to parliament. It had already stated that if the government were to accept the three main demands of the CE it would engage in parliamentary discussion on constitutional reform.

Of course, even if this happens and even if the government do put forward a better draft of constitutional ammendments, it still remains to be seen if the referendum is conducted properly and also, even if it is, how long it will take for the changes to come into force and, like the rule of law, actually function.
The members of the Justice bloc claimed that if the agreement reached in Strasbourg is realized, and the draft Constitution is reformed, it will be a step forward, but the problems of out country are conditioned not by the quality of the law but by their non-observance of the laws.

The Ago group persuaded the opposition to return to the Parliament and to take part in the discussion of the Constitutional reforms till the second reading. Stepan Demirchyan answered that if the draft constitution is ready and they are sure that the agreements reached have been put into practice, they will think about returning to Parliament.

Nevertheless, it is all a positive step. Many took a speech made by US President George Bush to Tbilisi last month as a call to "revolution" in the former Soviet space. Later, however, the US State Department made it clear that talking of aspirations to democracy does not mean American support for regime change.

Personally speaking, and although others mistakingly dwell too much on this issue, there is nothing to indicate that the US is willing to sponsor regime change in countries like Armenia and nor should they. Instead, the US and the CE are becoming more forceful in demanding that real democratic change occurs.

Later, in the event of falsified elections -- if they occur -- the US and Europe will do all it can to allow individual societies the ability to determine whether they are willing to accept the outcome or not. This pretty much what happened in Georgia and Ukraine, for example, and this is what should happen in Armenia if the next elections are falsified and are not conducted properly.

Basically, it is up to individual societies to determine how best to respond to a given undemocratic situation within a country and preferably within the context of the law and the constitution. After all, how can you expect an opposition movement that might come to power through unlawful actions to also be democratic? Elections should also be the time when such issues come to the fore.

Anyway, regardless of whether some people hoped that Bush's speech was a call to arms to citizens in Armenia and Azerbaijan, the point is that something has happened -- and also within the context of increased pressure from the CE. That is, the authorities in Azerbaijan have been more restrained in dealing with opposition protests there than they were in 2003 (and as compared to Armenia in 2004) and have agreed to the use of exit polls in the November parliamentary elections.

In Armenia, recent reversals in government policy on Shikahogh and the Constitutional Ammendments are also encouraging signs. Now, let's hope that such a process, which is real democracy in action, continues up until the 2007 parliamentary elections. Then, as long as that process is genuine, there will be no need for "revolution" in Armenia.

Of course, that depends on real political will from the government -- the first signs of that being in October and November in Armenia for the Constitutional Ammendments and Local Elections, and in Azerbaijan, for the Parliamentary Elections. Both governments have the ability to avert political crisis and internal instability within their two respective republics. We should soon know if they will.

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