By Elvir Mammadov
A constitutional referendum held in Armenia on December 6, 2015, changed the country from semi-presidential system to a parliamentary republic with 63,5 % of majority votes as it was released by the Central Election Commission. The proposal consisted of government-backed amendments aimed to change the structure of a government formation. In contrast to the government’s view, the opposition groups see this referendum as a political instrument to adjust the system for the interest of Serzh Sargsyan to remain in power. Criticism and rejection of the referendum’s result has caused an opposition’s protest.
From a theoretical view it might be seen very simple narrative act of political reformation if not to consider historical patterns used in not so far political history by several governments or leaders to remain in power. The previous constitution had been implemented since 2005 while the current opposition leader to the new constitution Robert Kocharyan was president of Armenia.
The constitution reform was proposed by the current ruling Republican Party leader and president Serzh Sargsyan, who took the cabinet in 2008. The new system downgraded the presidential post to a ceremonial position, who will be elected by the Armenian parliament for seven years. Despite the weakened president position, the post of prime minister is a powerful and decisive role in the country. According to the president Serzh Sargsyan, this change will make government’s work more effective and facilitated bureaucratic procedures, what can boost economic development in its turn.
In spite of the ruling party’s justification of constitutional amendments with an objective reasons and targets, the opposition leaders are calling to boycott the referendum’s results. Along with the social activists and other opposition groups, the Armenian National Congress rejects the amendments adopted on December 6, 2015, seeing it as a political maneuver of the current president to remain in power after his second term, which ends in 2018. Unlike the Central Asian countries, Belarus and neighbor Azerbaijan, Armenia has preferred to preserve the presidential term limit untouched. Nevertheless, Serzh Sargsyan would be able to be a real power in Armenia if he holds the Prime Minister or Parliament Speaker position. Besides the aforementioned critics mentioned by the opposition groups, there is a controversial provision of Article 89 in the new constitution, which provides the ruling coalition with additional privileges to appoint an election to ensure the victory of the ruling coalition if no party reach the sustainable parliamentary majority.
Azerbaijan and Georgia has made a change in their respective constitutions during the last six years. Each of them has carried out their reforms in different way, although Baku’s choice to lift the presidential term limit has become more guaranteed method to remain in power. However, Georgia’s experience of Sakaashvili’s party loses in 2012 parliamentary elections after the constitutional reform could be a practical prediction in the course of process in Armenia. It is worth to admit that compared to Georgia’s parliamentary elections, elections in Armenia was reported with more fraud elements, government’s pressure and multiple voting, what makes easier have an own-interest result. But new amendments adopted in the constitution will inevitable empower the Armenian parliament and might trigger more active involvement of opposition parties and society in political life of the country. This scenario would produce a different political reality in Parliamentary election of 2017 than what the ruling elite planned.