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Armenia: Concept for Constitutional Amendments Announced

(May 9, 2014) On April 10, 2014, the Commission on Constitutional Reforms, established under the President of Armenia, announced the proposed Concept for Constitutional Amendments, which will be drafted at a later date. The final Concept will be based on the ideas included in this 45-page paper, published on the Armenian Ministry of Justice website. (Constitutional Amendments of the Republic of Armenia Concept (Draft), Developed by the Specialized Commission on Constitutional Amendments by the President of Armenia [in Armenian] Ministry of Justice website (Mar. 2014).) The plan is for amendments to the Constitution to be submitted to a national referendum by the end of 2015. (Head of the Constitutional Commission Says that Referendum on Amendments Will Be Conducted in Late 2015 – Early 2016 [in Armenian], PANORAMA.AM (Apr. 10, 2014).)

The draft Concept states that the forthcoming constitutional amendments will be passed with the purpose of establishing “effective mechanisms of real appreciation of human rights and freedoms as an ultimate value, limitation of government powers, real separation of powers, and a working system of checks and balances,” aimed at the implementation of the constitutional principle of a social state. (Concept, supra, at 13-14.) It is hoped that the amendments, if passed, will correct the existing deficiencies in interaction between the institutions of power, define the president’s authority as a guarantor of the Constitution’s implementation, provide legislative authorities with effective controlling means, and more clearly divide executive authority between the president and the Cabinet of Ministers. (Id.)

Among the key innovations proposed by the draft Concept are:

· conducting elections for the President and National Assembly (Parliament) on the same day;
· transforming the current national political system into a parliamentarian form of government, with the President as the head of state elected by the Parliament from a list of non-partisan candidates, for a term of seven years without the possibility of reelection;
· having the Prime Minister assume his position based on the outcome of parliamentary elections;
· remaking the current three-level judiciary system into a two-level system and introducing courts with jurors; and
· giving the Constitutional Court the authority to decide on jurisdictional issues that arise among different government agencies. (Id. at 27.)

The draft Concept discusses the issue of direct democracy, defining the subjects that can be put on the ballot for a referendum and the role of the government and civic organizations in initiating a referendum. Specifically, it mentions the possibility of using referenda to decide questions of about joining international organization, membership in which may limit country’s sovereignty. (Id. at 35.)

Addressing local self-government issues, the draft Concept recommends strengthening the role of councils of aldermen at the local level and emphasizes the importance of inter-municipal unions. (Id. at 37.)

For the first time in Armenian legal history, the proposed Concept suggests defining the status of independent institutions established according to the Constitution, stating that they have special legal authority outside of the three classical branches of government. (Id. at 42.)

Prepared by Gabriel Balayan, visiting Fulbright scholar under the supervision of Peter Roudik, Director of Legal Research