Friday, July 01, 2005

Armenia: Constitution Deal in Sight

The Institute of War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) also covers the ongoing saga of Armenia's imminent constitutional reform with a report from Strasbourg and Yerevan by Victoria Abrahamian who's been covering the Council of Europe session for the Aybe Fe news agency. According to Abrahamian, and contrary to how many are trying to spin the about-turn by the authorities on the matter, pressure from the Council of Europe (CE) has forced the Armenian government to accept three key issues considered crucial for the democraticization of the country.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PACE, of which Armenia is a member, had strongly criticised the country for sticking to an undemocratic constitution. Further criticism had come from the Armenian parliamentary opposition, which has boycotted plenary sessions of parliament for two years.


The Venice Commission, which gives expert advice on constitutional matters, had expressed concerns about three parts of the constitution. In particular, they proposed abolishing the president’s right to sack the prime minister unilaterally and that the new premier should be appointed with the approval of a majority in parliament. It also wanted to see the end of presidential power over judges, and requested that the mayor of Yerevan – the capital city home to a third of the population - become an elected official.
The latter point is considered particularly sensitive and Kocharian's predecessor, former President Levon Ter Petrosian, was also considered to be against the idea of an elected Mayor regardless of whether that was to be by the people or a local City Council. The main argument is that as most of the population is concentrated in the capital, an elected head of the city would be in a position to challenge presidential power.

On the other hand, with the amount of illegal construction and environmental damage as a result of corruption in Yerevan, it is imperative that the Mayor is accountable to residents of the city and not subservient to the same people responsible for much of the illegalities. Regardless, the three main provisions will also result in many powerful individuals losing the levers they once enjoyed and exploited for personal gain.
“Power is very attractive and it’s hard to give it up,” noted Armen Rustamian, a parliamentary deputy from the pro-government Dashnaktsutiun party. “I don’t want to name names, however after constitutional reforms many will lose their levers of influence. By following the agreements that have been made Armenia really can get itself out of a constitutional crisis.”
Anyway, for whatever reasons, many consider that the constitutional ammendments will go a long way in resolving a lot of the problems currently facing Armenia. However, they are also quick to point out that just because a new constitution is enacted it does not mean that it will necessarily function.
“If all the demands of the Venice Commission are adopted, then Kocharian’s power will definitely be weaker,” said Hovsep Khurshudian, political analyst with the National Centre for Strategic Studies in Yerevan. “But let’s not forget that even the most ideal constitution can be violated.”

A weakening of presidential power on all these fronts will diminish Kocharian’s ability to dominate the country and ensure success for his chosen successor when his second and final presidential team ends in 2008.
The full article can be read online here.

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