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Armenia: Constitutional Amendments to Be Put to a Referendum

(Oct. 29, 2015) On October 8, 2015, the President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, signed a decree setting December 6, 2015, as the referendum day for constitutional amendments. (Decree of the President of Armenia No. 754 on Announcement of the Constitutional Amendments Referendum, PASHTONAKAN TEGHEKAGIR [Official Gazette], No. 67 (Oct. 9, 2015) (in Armenian).) The decree had been approved by the National Assembly three days earlier. (Draft Amendments to the Constitution of the Armenian Republic, PASHTONAKAN TEGHEKAGIR (Special Edition) (Oct. 13, 2015) (in Armenian).)

The proposed amendments leave intact only the first two articles of the current Constitution. The proposed text is almost twice as long as the current document and contains 220 articles instead of 117 . The European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) praised the draft law as being of high quality and in line with international standards. However, the Commission found some of its provisions debatable. One such measure is the proposed article 48, which deprives individuals with dual citizenship of the right to be elected to public office. (European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), Second Preliminary Opinion on the Draft Amendments in Particular to Chapters 8, 9, 11 to 16 of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, Opinion No. 757/2014 (Sept. 11, 2015), Council of Europe website.)

The Armenian Constitution of 1995 established a semi-presidential republic with broad powers granted to the President. The 2005 constitutional amendments significantly curtailed those powers, and the current legislation is expected to finalize this process by making Armenia a parliamentary republic and leaving the President with mainly ceremonial powers. (Id.)

Under the new Constitution, the National Assembly will be elected by proportional electoral contest. (Draft Amendments to the Constitution of the Armenian Republic, art. 89.) The amendments provide for a stable parliamentary majority; if no stable parliamentary majority is formed as a result of the election or through the building of a political coalition, a second round of elections may be held. (Id.) The President of the Republic will be elected by the National Assembly for seven years, instead of the current five. (Id. art. 125.) The President cannot be affiliated with any political party and can serve only one term. (Id. art. 124.) The Prime Minister, who will have executive powers, will be appointed by the President following nomination by the political party that won the parliamentary elections. (Id. art. 149.) The Prime Minister will assume the role of the supreme commander-in-chief in times of war. (Id. art. 155.)

The draft law introduces the concept of “constitutional laws” as a special segment of legislation (e.g., judicial code, electoral code, etc.). Constitutional laws will have to be adopted by a favorable vote of three-fifths of all Members of Parliament. (Id. art. 103.) The draft Constitution also allows for legislative amendments by popular initiative if at least 50,000 signatures are collected. (Id. art. 109.) If the National Assembly refuses to adopt a draft amendments submitted by popular initiative, the initiative can be put to a referendum once it garners support from an additional 300,000 people. (Id. art. 204.) Armenia’s membership in supranational organizations will also be subject to referendum. (Id. art. 205.)

To become effective, the draft amendments must be approved by the majority of referendum participants, constituting at least one-fourth of the entire electorate of about 2.5 million people, or approximately 620,000 votes.  (Armenian Constitutional Referendum Set for December 6, AZATUTYUN.AM (Oct. 8, 2015).)

Prepared by Nerses Isajanyan, Law Library Foreign Law Consultant, under the supervision of Peter Roudik, Director of Legal Research.