Venice Commission: Draft Amendments in Line with International Standards
STRASBOURG, France (A.W.)— On Sept. 11, the Council of Europe’s body of constitutional experts, the European Commission for Democracy Through Law, also known as the Venice Commission, published its Second Preliminary Opinion on the draft amendments to the Armenian Constitution, finding that the amendments were in line with international standards. The document covers Chapters 8, 9, and 11-16 of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, and follows the first preliminary opinion on the draft amendments to Chapters 1-7 and 10, which was issued on July 30.
The Venice Commission concluded that the work carried out by the Constitutional Commission of Armenia is of “extremely high quality” and deserves to be welcomed and supported. “The atmosphere of genuine dialogue and fruitful exchanges with the Venice Commission has continued and has enabled the Constitutional Commission to produce a text which is now in line with international standards,” read part of the document.
The 14-page document covers the Prosecution Office and the investigative organs; local self-government bodies; the Central Electoral Commission; the Television and Radio Commission; the Control Chamber; adopting and amending the constitution; the referendum; and final and transitional provisions.
The first Preliminary Opinion contained four main recommendations that have all been taken up, fully or in part, by the Constitutional Commission, including the lowering of a residence requirement from five to four years for those seeking to become a candidate for the National Assembly.
The Second Preliminary Opinion put forth further recommendations for improvement, which will likely be taken into account by the Constitutional Commission and by the National Assembly. As a conclusion to the document, the commission stressed the importance of an open and continued dialogue with all of the political forces of Armenia, as well as with civil society, in order for the constitutional amendments to be adopted by parliament and, subsequently, by referendum, which would “represent a further important step forward in the transition of Armenia towards democracy.”
In respect to the shift from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary form of government, the commission’s report notes that the draft amendments to the Constitution of Armenia under consideration introduce a system in which the powers of the president of the Armenian Republic “have been drastically reduced, and are almost only ceremonial, compared to the powers of presidents as guarantors of the constitution in other parliamentary regimes in Europe.”
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) has called for a transition to a parliamentary system of government in Armenia. Under the new system, Armenia would work with a 101-seat parliament with a 5-year term elected entirely by proportional representation. Under the current system of government, there are 131 members of parliament, with 41 elected in first-past-the-post constituencies and the rest by proportional representation.
The Commission on Armenia’s Constitutional Reforms, which is headed by President Serge Sarkisian, released the final version of the draft amendments to the constitution on Aug. 21. The draft amendments meet 90-95 percent of the ARF’s expectations, ARF parliamentary faction secretary Aghvan Vardanyan told reporters on Aug. 24, when he, along with ARF Bureau member and head of the party’s political affairs Armen Rustamyan, gave a press conference.
“We will do everything so that through the referendum, the people will accept our amendments,” Vardanyan was quoted as saying by Yerkir Media last month. He added that through these reforms, Armenia will be able to move in a new direction, and that he is certain the constitutional reforms will help solve some of the existing problems in the country.