BY VICKEN SOSIKIAN
As we speak a potentially catastrophic crisis is brewing in Armenia. In 2018, the world revered the democratic leap Armenians made through the people’s movement that ousted the old regime. The world applauded the free and fair elections that replaced the old legislative (National Assembly) and executive (government) branches with the current. Those elections resulted in a government controlled by Nikol Pashinyan and a National Assembly fully controlled by his party.
While pleased with a free and fair electoral process, many political analysts raised concerns about the two branches being controlled by one party. In that the spirit of the people’s movement was not to replace the old regime with a new one, but to eliminate the existence of omni-powerful regimes all together.
The government and National Assembly have called for a referendum to amend a single article (213) in the Armenian Constitution, essentially enabling them to replace the majority of sitting Constitutional Court justices with those they will appoint.
There are 2 critical problems here.
1. The referendum has been called without following due processes outlined in the Constitution (articles 168, 169). The Constitutional Law Regarding Referendums (Article 8, Part 2) as well as the Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly (Article 86) have also been violated. The process and the referendum is totally illegal.
2. In a country where one man’s party already controls the legislative and executive branches, the outright attempt to take control of the judicial branch counters the most basic democratic ideals including the need for balance of power. In fact, it violates Article 4 of the Armenian Constitution, which requires a balance of power between the three branches.
This is a crisis and its manifestation will be on the ballot April 5th.
An estimated 648,000 “yes” votes are needed for the constitutional amendment to take place.
With virtually every political group in the country urging citizens to boycott the illegal referendum, the Pashinyan camp is left alone with support from disgraced former president Levon Ter Petrosian.
Pashinyan will be the face of the “yes” campaign. Given the uphill battle he faces, he is expected to double down on his divisive rhetoric to secure the needed votes.
He has already announced that those who are against the referendum are against the state. He has already framed the referendum far from its real purpose by calling it the people’s vote in support of the 2018 revolution.
The Potential Catastrophe
Should Pashinyan secure the needed “yes” votes, he will control the appointment of the constitutional court judges. These judges are responsible for ensuring that laws passed by the National Assembly don’t violate the constitution. These judges must also review and approve the constitutionality of all treaties.
What could lie ahead? A Déjà vu of the Armenia-Turkey protocols? Artsakh concessions? Shifts in foreign policy?
The dangers in total consolidation of power and the precedent set by circumventing the constitution is clear and present.
The people’s movement of 2018 changed a lot in Armenia, but it certainly did not do away with the most basic of democratic ideals, nor the rule of law.
Every Armenian must understand the severity of what lies ahead and do their part in ensuring democracy prevails.