YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The head of the Venice Commission, Gianni Buquicchio, reaffirmed on Friday its largely positive assessment of the controversial changes in Armenia’s constitution planned by President Serzh Sarkisian. The Venice Commission is an influential body monitoring legal reform in Council of Europe member states.
Buquicchio also said that Sarkisian has managed to muster broad-based political support for his draft amendments envisaging the country’s transition to a parliamentary system of government. He argued that they were backed by an overwhelming majority of Armenian lawmakers earlier this week.
“I think that with this latest major change—the new constitution—Armenia is taking a step forward,” Buquicchio told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Now the final word belongs to the Armenian people.”
He noted that an Armenian presidential body accepted most of the Venice Commission’s recommendations and made corresponding changes in the constitutional package before submitting them to the National Assembly over a month ago.
In its second “preliminary opinion” released on September 11, a team of Venice Commission experts concluded that the proposed amendments, if enacted, will be a “further important step forward in the transition of Armenia towards democracy.” According to Buquicchio, the constitutional law experts will deliver their final and comprehensive verdict later on the draft this month.
The Venice Commission chief, who met with Sarkisian on Thursday, expressed hope that a referendum on the constitutional changes slated for December 6, as well as the next elections in Armenia, will be democratic. “Unfortunately, you have had in the past elections that did not meet international standards,” he said. “I hope that from now on elections in Armenia will be free, fair and in full conformity with international standards.”
Buquicchio agreed that the amended constitution and laws alone will not lead to clean elections unless they are properly enforced by Armenian authorities.