Vision for the Future

Dear reader, compatriot,

I decided to write to you and talk about the legal and political processes taking place in Armenia. I know that even though you have a hard day at work or are studying hard, you always find the time to read the news about the Homeland.

I know that every positive change and sign of progress makes you happy, and that every unpleasant and troubling phenomenon makes you feel sad. I also know that what matters to you is the security in Armenia and Artsakh and that you are very concerned when you find out about the opponent’s constant violations to break the fragile security.

I have no doubt that, deep down inside, you always feel proud that you are Armenian and that your genes have helped you a lot. At the same time, not only you, but also all of our compatriots living abroad think about having a stronger and more protected Homeland, a country that acknowledges and guarantees human rights and freedoms more, and a country that unconditionally ensures the activities of democratic institutions.

Of course, you also know that our country is only 24 years old and that the first years following its establishment were the years during which we were eliminating the consequences of the Spitak Earthquake, winning the war imposed on Karabakh, overcoming the energy crisis and laying the foundations for a new, free and independent state.

State-building, establishing the branches of power, specifying their functions and ensuring checks-and-balances were difficult and complicated processes. The first parliament, which was referred to as the Supreme Council, truly played a major role in the adoption of strictly necessary laws, in the creation of the institute of the President and in the separation of the legislative, executive and judicial powers. However, the key to the functioning of a legal state is the existence of a Constitution which, being the fundamental law of a country, not only regulates the major and necessary relations between man and the state and defines the main principles of activities of the society and the state, but also determines the structure of the government and the system of the state bodies.

While taking its first steps towards democracy the independent Armenia adopted its Constitution in 1995, meanwhile fighting a war and being in a blockade. Of course, it could not have been perfect, compared to the Constitutions of countries that have had democracy for 200 and more years. Nevertheless, the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia began to be applied, the powers and functions of state administration bodies and the balance between them, as well as the incomplete system of counterbalances and restrictions were defined, and the flaws turn to be seen over time.

The President had great powers that allowed him to dismiss the Prime Minister at any given moment, accept the resignation of the government or disband the parliament elected by the people and with a primary mandate, and so on.

However, our goal is to finally build a sovereign, democratic, social and legal state and smoothly integrate into the international community. Taking into consideration the priorities for our advancement, we became a member of several international structures and organizations.

We adopted the principles of democracy, of acknowledging man as a supreme value, of protecting human and citizens’ rights and making the transition to a market economy by joining the Council of Europe, adopting and ratifying the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and more.

In the Council of Europe, we assumed responsibility to make our laws and including the fundamental law meet international standards. In 2003, with the purpose of making the transition from the presidential system of governance to the semi-parliamentary system of governance, we drafted a package of constitutional reforms, but unfortunately, they were not adopted based on the results of the referendum.

Throughout the 10 years of existence of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, we saw the flaws of and mistakes in our laws, the strictly individual-centered nature of the system of governance and the disproportionate distribution of powers between state administration bodies. All that, as well as the international commitments of the Republic of Armenia served as a basis for undertaking new constitutional reforms.

Dear reader,

Indeed, the Constitution reformed in 2005 was a step forward since it helped expand the scope of human rights and freedoms, the powers of the Government and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, as well as added more oversight functions of the parliament. However, the developments that followed showed that this model of governance also contains dangerous “mines” and will lead to serious problems. Thus, during all the presidential elections (except for the election in 1991), the society was split, causing a serious confrontation between the winning and losing sides. The person who wins by 2-3% difference in the number of votes in the presidential elections gains ample powers, while the loser remains empty-handed with his tremendous electorate. The society is split into two parts, and it is rather long and hard to get it back on track.

One of the golden rules of democracy is to establish control over officials and authorities elected and formed, but with the current Constitution, that can be circumvented.

Let me bring up an example. With the current Constitution, the institute of the President can become uncontrollable. The President can only be impeached for treason or another heavy crime which, in practice, is almost impossible because there is no President who will betray the country. In case of making the transition to parliamentary governance, the President is elected by the parliament, his main powers are granted to the Prime Minister, who becomes the official having the major role in the state apparatus. However, unlike the current form of governance, according to the new system of governance, the Prime Minister is controllable and is directly accountable to the parliament. If these reforms are passed, any failure may become a topic for the parliament to discuss, and the issue of expressing lack of confidence in the Prime Minister, the government or a minister may be raised. So, in the case of this model of governance, there is a possibility to rule out the lack of control, impunity, as well as lack of responsibility for politics and the Constitution.

I would also like to talk about another possible discrepancy that may lead to a crisis in terms of the Constitution.

In the existing system of governance, if the parliament or the President is from the same political team, then there obviously can’t be a discrepancy between these two institutes. However, there can be a situation where the President of the Republic and the parliamentary majority are representatives of different political parties and are opponents. In this case, there might be a situation in which the parliament, including the government that it has formed decided not to ensure the constitutional powers of the President. For instance, as the Commander-in-Chief, the President demands mobilizing state resources for the country’s defense, but the government does not find it appropriate to solve the issue in accordance with the President’s assignment which creates an unsolvable situation within the country, when even the defense of the country under threat. It is also clear that, being on the opposite side, the President can’t dismiss the Prime Minister (the person enjoying the trust of the parliamentary majority is appointed as the Prime Minister), may not disband the parliament, and the parliament may not express lack of confidence in the President since the latter is elected by the people, etc. The list of such critical situations can go on.

The current reforms have taken into consideration all possible cases and norms that can lead to difficult situations and, accordingly, new mechanisms have been proposed. If the transition is made to the system of parliamentary governance, then these discrepancies will be ruled out.

I would also like to inform that since 2013, the Constitutional committee has examined and discussed various proposals, studies the international experience, has consulted with the top experts in international law, with the “Democracy via Law” European Commission (Venice Commission) adjunct to the Council of Europe and has set forth a more brief and more perfect draft of constitutional reforms in the Republic of Armenia. The draft has over 100 Articles, the majority of which are related to human rights and freedoms, change in the system of governance, the procedure for formation of and the independence of the judicial power, as well as the problems related to the territorial and local authorities.

After all, if the people say “yes” to these reforms, it means that in the future, they will only elect Members of Parliament by the proportional order and Members with ample powers for control over the parliament. By electing the Prime Minister and the head of state, the Parliament makes the government responsible for solving all issues related to the country’s domestic and foreign affairs, and this leads to the elimination of bipolarization (in the existing Constitution, both the President and the government have  responsibility).

The draft envisages the mechanisms that won’t lead the Parliament and the government to conflict or confrontation of. In case of unsatisfactory work, the Parliament, paying heed to the people’s discontent, can express lack of confidence in the government, relieve itself of any ineffective Prime Minister not accepted by the people and, therefore, the government.

One of the major advantages of this document and one of the important approaches contributing to the deepening of democracy is the fact that the parliamentary opposition will be granted many rights, the office of deputy speaker of parliament, and the parliamentary majority won’t be capable of making major decisions, if it doesn’t cooperate with the opposition.

Another important fact is that one of the best ways to establish stability within the country and avoid political confrontations is to have the parliament elect the President of the Republic. The President must be non-partisan and play the role of an impartial arbitrator between the government and the parliament by making sure the Constitution is protected.

Dear compatriot, I would also like to inform you that in the constitutional reforms, the Article on the Diaspora has been modified, and it has been enshrined that Armenia carries out a policy aimed at developing and strengthening multilevel relations with the Diaspora and preserving the Armenian identity, which contributes to repatriation. According to this Article the government has a major obligation to contribute to the preservation of the Armenian language, historical and cultural values in foreign countries, as well as to the development of Armenian education and cultural life.

By adopting major principles of democratization, we aspire to enhance democratic institutions, broaden and deepen the power of the people in order to build a strong and protected Armenia.

The Armenia that the entire Armenian nation aspires for, the Armenia that you, dear Diaspora Armenians aspire for, the Armenia that is the Homeland of all Armenians around the world!

Let us wait and hope that the people will make the right decision and will accept and implement the constitutional reforms. Let us also hope that we see the expected results and that the reformed Constitution is exercised.

Hranush Hakobyan

RA Minister of Diaspora

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