Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

MacroInstitutional Political Structures and Their Development in Armenia

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

MacroInstitutional Political Structures and Their Development in Armenia

Article excerpt

The question of adopting forms of institutions, defining the manner in which state institutions should interact, and defining executive-legislative relations was part of the political discourse of all post-Soviet nations, especially in the early 1990s. In some cases the debate is still raging and the processes are ongoing, such as in Armenia, where a revised constitution was put to a general referendum in November 2005.

In Armenia the issues of institutional design and the adoption of a new constitution, were put forward soon after Armenia's Supreme Soviet adopted the Declaration on Independence (which laid the groundwork for the referendum on the Declaration of Independence in September 1991). On November 5, 1990, the Parliament established the Constitutional Commission, which was comprised of twenty politicians, members of the Parliament, and lawyers, to draft a new constitution. The chairman of the Supreme Soviet, Levon Ter-Petrossian, headed the commission. However, before the commission's first meeting on October 15, 1992, the Armenian political system had undergone considerable changes. Based on the Declaration on Independence, which separated the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, the Supreme Soviet decided to formally establish the presidency on June 25, 1991, and to hold elections three months later on October 16. Ter-Petrossian scored an overwhelming victory, receiving 83 percent of the votes cast. Paruyr Hayrikyan, of the Union of National Self-Determination Party (AIM), received 7.2 percent of the votes, while the candidate of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (HHD) received 4.3 percent of the votes.

While there was no doubt the presidency was necessary, there were disagreements over the limits of presidential powers. Two main camps, one favoring a stronger Parliament, the other a more powerful presidency, had already emerged in the summer of 1991. Those favoring the parliamentary system stressed its implicit democratic nature, cautioning against the ills of too much power being concentrated in the hands of one individual. They also argued that Armenia had a parliamentary tradition, pointing to the experiences of the First Armenian Republic (1918-1920) and Soviet Armenia. Furthermore, they argued, a strong Parliament would assist in the institutionalization of political parties, while a strong presidency would discourage it. Advocates of a strong presidency made their own arguments, stipulating that a nonprofessional Parliament, composed of weak political parties, would be detrimental to the young republic, leaving the country in anarchy, and thus one step away from the emergence of a dictatorship. They pointed out that using the Soviet system as an example was not a valid model, as real authority during the Soviet period was concentrated in the hands of the Communist Party and its first secretary, providing the basis instead of one-person and one-party rule. No less important for those arguing for a strong presidency was the context of the time, including the need for a strong leadership to transform the political and economic systems, in addition to the processes of state and nation building. Additionally, Armenia was overburdened by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the economic blockades by Turkey and Azerbaijan. This led some to see a strong presidency as a more effective way of dealing with the problems of the time.

In 1991, the Supreme Soviet adopted two laws-the Law on the President of the Republic of Armenia (August 1), and the Law on the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Armenia (November 19)-which were the first steps taken toward the creation of a strong presidency. The debates on presidential authority have continued to the present, generally falling into two camps: those in power favoring a strong presidency and those in opposition favoring a strong Parliament.

After the introduction of the presidency in Armenia, and the adoption of the laws on the Supreme Soviet and the president, the balance in executive-legislative relations shifted in favor of the president. …

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