YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—President Serzh Sarkisian has agreed to drop one of his most controversial constitutional changes relating to the conduct of Armenia’s next parliamentary elections, a legal expert representing him confirmed on Friday.
The amendment drafted by a presidential commission stipulates that those elections must necessarily result in a “stable majority” of parliament seats won by a single party. This would almost certainly require a run-off vote between the two parties that won the most votes in the first round of voting.
Critics, among them many opposition parties, say this unusual arrangement would make it easier for Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) to retain control over the National Assembly. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission has also criticized the controversial clause, urging the Sarkisian administration to remove it from the text expected to be put on a referendum in November.
The president and his ad hoc commission initially refused to do that. But they apparently changed their stance after talks last month with visiting Venice Commission officials and leaders of opposition parties that seem ready to support Armenia’s transition to a parliamentary system of government envisaged by the constitutional package.
Vartan Poghosian, a member of the presidential body, confirmed this during parliamentary hearings on the constitutional reform. He said that details of the electoral system under the parliamentary republic would be specified in Armenia’s Electoral Code.
“As a result of negotiations we reached agreements to the effect that if a stable parliamentary majority is not formed as a result of the first round or through formation of a political coalition […] then the Electoral Code can envisage a second round of voting,” Poghosian told lawmakers. “‘Can envisage’ does not mean ‘necessarily envisage,’” he said.
Poghosian also made clear that Armenia’s next, largely ceremonial president would be elected by the parliament, rather than a special electoral college that was envisaged by the initial version of the constitutional package. The electoral college would have comprised of not only parliamentarians but also representatives of local government bodies.
Sarkisian’s political allies also emphasize the fact that under the proposed reform the next parliamentary elections would be held only on a party-list basis, something which has long been demanded by the Armenian opposition.
Only 90 members of the current 131-seat National Assembly were elected under the system of proportional representation in 2012. The remaining 41 seats were distributed in nationwide individual constituencies. The HHK swept the vast majority of those constituencies thanks to its vast financial and administrative resources.
These concessions will not be enough to win over all opposition parties represented in the parliament. Two of them, the Armenian National Congress and Zharangutyun (Heritage), remain strongly opposed to the constitutional changes, saying that they would only enable Sarkisian to extend his rule beyond 2018.