Armenian president proposes his powers be strengthened
The presidency in Armenia is representative, but Armen Sargsyan wants more influence, including in connection with constitutional changes and the growth of real estate tax.
Armenian President Armen Sargsyan has proposed the authority of the presidency be strengthened.
The president expressed his disagreement with the situation in which he finds himself at a meeting with members of the expert commission on constitutional reforms.
This is not the beginning of this story. Armen Sargsyan took office after the country’s transition to the parliamentary form of government and knew that he would not have the powers that his predecessors had. Now the head of state is the prime minister. And the presidency is more of a representative body.
The president’s statement now is due to a disagreement with the decisions of the ruling political party about constitutional amendments, as well as a sharp increase in property taxes, which were recently adopted by parliament.
What’s bothering the president?
It all started with the fact that the parliament adopted the draft amendments to the law on the regulations of the National Assembly. And now amendments to the country’s constitution will not need to be sent for signature to the president.
Vahagn Hovakimyan, an MP from the ruling My Step bloc, explained why this decision was made:
“When constitutional amendments are adopted in a referendum, they enter into force without the signature of the president, and when they are adopted by parliament, they require a presidential signature. Therefore, it was decided not to expand the powers of the president (to sign in both cases), but to reduce them (not to sign in any).”
In fact, the president did not object and signed the amendments to the Law “Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly”.
As a result, the constitutional amendments entered into force without the signature of the president. They concerned the Constitutional Court. Now the work of the judges of the Constitutional Court is limited to 12 years. After this period they will be relieved of their posts. After the law came into force, three out of nine judges left the Constitutional Court.
And President Sargsyan is now offering to give him the opportunity to directly appoint three new judges of the Constitutional Court, and not just submit their candidacies to parliament.
In addition, at the meeting, Armen Sargsyan again expressed his disagreement with the amendments to the tax code adopted by parliament, or rather, with a sharp increase in real estate tax.
The president believes that the MPs are not thinking out all the details, and now many underserved people will not be able to pay the increased tax:
“There is no doubt that the state should think over and develop tax legislation, and people who are richer should pay more taxes … But, for example, if an assistant professor living in the center of Yerevan inherited his apartment from his famous academician grandfather. What should he do in this case – sell it and move to the outskirts of the city? It is possible that he will sell the apartment and leave the country, taking with him the academic archives and history, as a whole part of the history of Yerevan and our people.”
Sargsyan stressed that he cannot send the law to the Constitutional Court, because he has no problems with its constitutionality:
“All I have to do is sign the law and attach a statement. I did just that, explaining in detail what the problems were. If I had the right to send the law back to the National Assembly, I would do it, noting that for these reasons, the law should be amended. And I would veto this law if I had such an opportunity.”
Ruling faction response
“There can be no question” of reducing the president’s powers, said Lilit Makunts, head of the My Step parliamentary faction.
And if the amendments to the law on the rules of procedure of the National Assembly were unacceptable for Armen Sargsyan, according to Makunts, he simply would not sign them.
Makunts also commented on the president’s proposal for the right to appoint three of the nine judges of the Constitutional Court:
“The Ministry of Justice has formed a working group to amend the constitution, and the issue should be discussed precisely in this plane. Naturally, there should be discussions in which representatives of the presidential apparatus, representatives of the legislative and executive authorities will take part … ”
The role of the president in domestic political processes in the Armenian media has been discussed since February 2020, when Armen Sargsyan for the first time did not sign amendments to the laws adopted by the parliament. Then the president doubted the constitutionality of the amendments introduced to the laws “On Bank Secrecy” and the Code of Criminal Procedure.
This was unexpected – both for parliamentarians and for the public. Then, many experts began to say that the president no longer wants to be a figurehead ‘Queen of England.’
Sargsyan enjoys a high confidence rating among the country’s residents. According to a survey conducted by the sociological company MPG (Marketing Professional Group), officially representing Gallup International in the country, in December 2019, the president’s rating was 83 percent. The latest survey was conducted on July 3. The results of this study showed that 79.3 percent of respondents approve of the president’s activities.
Political observer Hrant Mikaelyan explains the high rating of the president by the fact that “the president is not a subject of political conflicts”:
“So, he does not face a certain consolidated negative position. As a rule, positive events, tendencies, emotions are associated with the president, therefore he maintains a high level of approval.”