The Presidential Dilemmas in Armenia

Dr. Razmig Shirnian
Dr. Razmig Shirnian

Dr. Razmig Shirnian


A constitutional referendum in Armenia is set to change the country into a fully parliamentary republic. It is set to change the existing constitution, adopted in 1995, which clearly outlines the presidential model of democracy and explains the workings of the current Armenian political system. First, what is notable in the existing constitutional language concerning presidential power is the outright authority and the minimal, if any, flexibility for interpretation. The president is explicitly given the constitutional authority “to ensure the regular functioning of the legislative, executive and judicial powers” (see, for example, Chapter 3, Article 49 of the Constitution). In the current constitutional design, the practice of decision-making and public policy in Armenia are primarily confined within the executive power and the presidential model of democracy.

Many advocates of a strong executive argue for an effective government and the need for a president who possesses broad constitutional powers to promote the nation’s security and holds the essential responsibility in the conduct of domestic and foreign affairs. However, this argument overlooks the need for independent functioning of the legislative and judicial institutions which are largely reduced to presidential decrees. In this context, Armenia fails to practice a clear system of checks and balances, or an institutionalized system of government that works on its own accord.

Specific limitations on the legislative (the National Assembly) are clearly noted in Chapters 3 and 4 of the current Constitution. One of the most important limitations is the presidential dissolution of the National Assembly, “if the National Assembly does not give an approval to the program of the Government two times in succession within two months” (Chapter 4, Article 74, clause 1). Three other clauses in the same article further authorize the President to dissolve the National Assembly: Upon the recommendation of the Chairman of the National Assembly or the Prime Minister, the President may resolve the National Assembly:

a. If the National Assembly fails within three months to resolve on the draft law deemed urgent by the decision of the Government; or

b. If in the course of a regular session no sittings of the National Assembly are convened for more than three months; or

c. If in the course of a regular session the National Assembly fails for more than three months to adopt a resolution on issues under debate. Although justified within the executive logic, these and similar constitutional provisions outline the powers largely exercised on a daily basis by presidential appointees.

The primary concern, here, is the fact that these non-elected and appointed government officials, in the last twenty five years, have hardly been responsive to the public.

Thus, the current concern is prevalent. There is an uneasy relationship between the government and society in Armenia. Surveys conducted by Caucasian Barometer, for example, indicate that people, in general, tend to regard the government largely non-benevolent and non-efficient in public policy and in development of the country. Consequently, key questions arise: What explains this relationship and the ensuing negligence in public policy and infrastructural development since independence in 1991? How to advance the dynamics of public policy and development of the country? And what might be their implications for the future of the Armenian politics? These and similar questions explore the prospective role of the future parliaments in building the country and, in turn, the extent of influence the public might gain to exercise.

Within the current executive institution, the system of collective leadership – typically found among cabinet members in a parliamentary system that form a coalition and share leadership responsibility – is incompatible with centralized presidential authority and inconsistent with democratic practice in Armenian. The president is not first among the elected officials; rather, he is the person in charge. Cabinet members, or the Government as stated in the Constitution, are presidential appointees, serving at the president’s wish. They are far from being accountable to the public. The precarious conditions of the people, both the masses and organized groups, are an indication of the omnipresent elitism of the Armenian political system. As a consequence, public policy in Armenia remains limited to the elite preferences and renders the multiplicity of social and economic needs of the populace largely hampered.

Razmig B. Shirinian is a Professor of Political Science at the College of the Canyons.


Discussion Policy

Comments are welcomed and encouraged. Though you are fully responsible for the content you post, comments that include profanity, personal attacks or other inappropriate material will not be permitted. Asbarez reserves the right to block users who violate any of our posting standards and policies.


  1. Armen said:

    The primary problem in Armenian politics is election fraud, not the constitution. The President is not accountable to the people because he does not need their votes. Electoral reform should come before any constitutional reform. I am disappointed at the ARF’s position on this issue.

  2. Norserunt said:

    This referendum is much ado about nothing. I see pros and cons in both types of government. The referendum became just another opportunity for the country’s Western-financed political opposition to carryout protests and make some noise. Nothing good or bad will come out of this referendum. I personally think Armenia would benefit more from national socialism or constitutional monarchy. Armenians are politically naive, very emotional, they love arguing, complaining and throwing temper tantrums. Armenians and “democracy” don’t mix well together. More than “democracy” what Armenia really needs today is a population and by extension a leadership that is willing to put its personal/material interests and psychological/emotional problems aside and begin seriously thinking about country’s future. More than any type of government per se, what Armenia/Armenians need is the following wisdom –

    “For the power of the nation-state by no means consists only in its armed forces, but also in its economic and technological resources, in the dexterity, foresight and resolution with which its foreign policy is conducted; the efficiency of its social and political organizations. It consists most of all in the nation itself, the people; their skills, energy, ambition, discipline, initiative; their beliefs, myths and illusions. And it consists, further, in the way all these factors are related to one another. Moreover, national power has to be considered not only in itself, in its absolute extent, but relative to the state’s foreign or imperial obligations; it has to be considered relative to the power of other states.” – British author, Correlli Barnett

    God save Armenia from democracy. Democracy appeals to society’s lowest classes yearning for a voice; the nation’s religious and ethnic minorities and homosexuals yearning for acceptance; politically naive romantics; and the intellectually shallow. We have seen where Democracy has gotten nations like Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine and Syria.

    Democracy is like a highly addictive and a very dangerous game that everybody can play (and everybody is being encouraged to play) but also a game that no one can actually win at. You keep trying and trying, you tear yourself apart in the process, yet you just cant win. The game is simply unwinnable because it empowers the ignorant masses – but you keep trying to play it because it’s being pushed by the game’s creators. You keep playing also because it’s highly addictive and you see everyone’s doing it. The creators and pushers of this game are the ones that have rigged the game in their favor. They can afford to play it and even make it look as if they are winning at it… but for the rest of us it’s just a nasty road to nowhere.

  3. Harutik said:

    Some pertinent quotes to ponder

    “Was the Western world born this developed, this progressive or this wealthy, or did it have to travel a very long, bumpy path to get to where it is today? The Western world, including the US, took hundreds years to reach where it is today. In fact, the Western world is where it is today due to numerous wars of plunder, grand theft, genocide and human exploitation”

    “Similar to how the Vatican relentlessly pushed its version of Christianity upon “Godless” societies for many centuries, Washington has in similar fashion been pushing its version of a new religion known as Democracy/Globalism upon the political infidels of the world in recent times. We are all expected by the apostles and proselytizers of the cult of Democracy and Globalism to offer sacrifices to their holy doctrine because their god, the almighty Dollar is omnipresent; their only chosen one, the Zionist state of Israel is omnipotent; and if we dare to displease this modern cult, its wrath shall be unleashed upon us”

    “Elections in the US is basically about two groups of well connected people competing for the empire’s control panels. There has not been “free and fair” elections in the US for generations. The system is rigged to be a two party show. Democrats and Republicans are ultimately two sides of the same coin. Every four years the financial/corporate elite in the US decide what shirt the sheeple will wear, and the sheeple are given the “democratic” choice of picking between two colors. The US political system is like a two ring circus managed by a ringmaster that the audience does not get to see. US presidents are ‘appointed’ to be elected by the sheeple. US presidents are tasked with being the spokesmen or salesmen for special interests running the show behind-the-scenes in the American empire. The US is being run as if it is a multi-national corporation in which the American citizenry is its work force”

    “A little over century ago America’s robber barons (e.g. Carnegies, Rockefellers, Morgans, Goulds, Vanderbilts, Du Ponts, Warburgs, etc) used their immense fortunes to buy into the American political system, forever blurring the line between politics and business. These oligarchs used their powerful influences to impact the making of political legislation. The political system in the US was manipulated by America’s oligarchs to serve their businesses and to preserve their immense wealth. Although it has been in a decline in recent years, the American middle class essentially grew as a result of feeding on the crumbs that were falling off the lavish banquet tables of the nation’s super wealthy”

    “The Western world has severe forms of corruption. It can be argued that Western corruption is by-far the most egregious, albeit more nuanced and/or sophisticated. The main difference between corruption in the West and corruption in a place like Armenia is that corruption in the developed West is strictly reserved for the political/financial elite, whereas in an underdeveloped nation like Armenia all layers of society can engage in it. Moreover, Armenia is a tiny country, therefore any form of wrong doing can immediately be seen or felt by all. Through legislation, the practice of corruption in the Western world has evolved to become fully institutionalized. Therefore, in the West, institutionalized corruption is not for the common folk. Institutionalized corruption in the US, for instance, is reserved for the American empire’s elites (e.g. military industrial complex, Zionist/Jewish groups, pentagon, oil industry, Federal Reserve, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals industry, etc)”

    “Democracy for an adolescent nation like Armenia can prove fatal. As the events of early 2008 clearly revealed, Armenians are not yet politically mature enough to actually be given the responsibility of electing their leadership. We have seen the destruction democracy has visited upon undeveloped or underdeveloped nations throughout the world. The destructive nature of democracy on underdeveloped nations may be why some nations on Washington’s black list are being prescribed a very heavy dose of it these days. A nation like Armenia, just coming out of under a thousand years or Asiatic/Islamic/Bolshevik rule simply cannot have the proper national institutions or the mindsets with which to flirt with a dangerous and potentially destructive political process like democracy”