A constitutional referendum will be held in Nagorno-Karabakh in a couple of days, on February 20: the people will say ‘aye’ or ‘nay’ to a concept of the country’s basic law. Parliamentary and non-parliamentary forces are preparing the population for a decisive choice.
A provision on changing the existing semi-presidential model of governance to the presidential one is among the amendments provided for in the document.
Will the next president of Artsakh be ‘a super-president’?
Critics of the presidential form of governance consider the proposed model as ‘super-presidential’. Hayk Khanumyan, a leader of the oppositional National Revival Party of Karabakh, believes that the Constitution is actually being changed for accumulation of power in the incumbent government’s hands and its reproduction. In his opinion, there can’t be any other goal than this, since the current Constitution was adopted only a decade ago: “Country’s President is actually tailoring the Constitution to himself. Whereas rooting to the Chair may lead to fatal consequences for Artsakh.”
Under the Constitution in effect, NKR President, Bako Sahakyan, can no longer be in power. Whereas a new draft Constitution contains an ambiguous provision, under which, the head of state can retain power until 2020-in the period of transition from the old constitutional law to a new one. Afterwards, the president is entitled to run for presidency twice, until 2030.
The authorities, however, assure that this provision doesn’t serve the aforesaid goals. According to Vardges Bagryan, the leader of the ‘Democracy’ faction at the NKR National Assembly, the constitutional reforms can’t be a goal in and of itself. The Constitution can’t be adjusted for a particular person or for maintaining certain position, especially as Bako Sahakyan hasn’t expressed any intention either to stay in power in the transitional period or to run for president in future.
For the sake of whom or what?
Then why has been the process of changing the governance model launched in Karabakh?
NKR Justice Minister, Ararat Danielyan, believes that the proposed presidential governance model has been chosen with due account for all key factors: population’s security and public mood. In Danielyan’s words, the challenges facing Karabakh require strong and consolidated executive power, capable of mobilizing all available resources in the country and promptly responding to any situation both, in peace and war times:
“I am fundamentally against using the term ‘super-presidential model’, because in our case, we, on the contrary, attach particular importance to the parliamentary counterweight. You can’t term as ‘super-presidential’ the country, where judges of all instances will be appointed by Parliament and the President will not be involved in this process; where it will be possible to dismiss the president on the grounds provided for in the Constitution, and where the local governance is guaranteed.”
The Justice Minister also disagreed with the opinion that the Constitution is changed so that Bako Sahakyan could keep his power, noting that ‘there is no such tradition of inheritance or reproduction of power in the country.’
Alexander Kananyan, a political analyst, believes that the expected changes will have a negative impact on Nagorno-Karabakh: “After adoption of a new Constitution, the role of the people’s engagement will be diminished. For example, people will be deprived of the right to referendum and the latter will be conferred to Parliament, since it’s easier to manipulate the Parliament, rather that the people.
The political analyst regards as unacceptable the authorities’ argument that people should vote for the new Constitution, since under it Nagorno-Karabakh Republic will be referred to as ‘Artsakh Republic’. “It’s an absolute nonsense. I’m offended that I and other people of Artsakh are being fooled, saying that in this Constitution the terms ‘Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’ and ‘Artsakh Republic’ are equal.”
However, that’s not the only argument for adoption of the new Constitution, adduced by the authorities.
According to Artur Tovmasyan, MP, a leader of ‘Motherland’ faction at the NKR National Assembly, Article 175 of the Constitution sets the boundaries of the republic’s jurisdiction, which is important for the country at war. “After the April war, the negotiation process has come to a standstill. Whereas Azerbaijan is in a warlike mood. The role of armed forces is increasing against such background. The most important is that the adoption of new Constitution will have a positive impact on the efficiency of the political system and the army,” the ruling party MP stressed.
While the politicians are bringing forth their arguments and counterarguments, the population tries to figure out what is what. Bella Lalayan, a journalist, believes that ordinary citizens haven’t managed to thoroughly study a new Constitution. Whereas the propaganda pushed by the political parties, namely, by the document proponents, ‘is misleading the people, rather than raising their awareness’.
“Referendum is scheduled for February 20, which is a historic day for Artsakh. It is regarded as the day of its revival, since on that very day a decision on integration into Armenia was made. For the people of Artsakh the most import is a struggle for independence, whereas those slogans -‘Yes to Artsakh’, the posters and fliers featuring the participants in ‘Miatsum’ [translated as ‘reunion’] demonstration on February 20, 1988, are misleading the population,” says Bella Lalayan.
In the journalist’s words, part of the population that hasn’t made up its mind yet, can’t understand what they should vote for on February 20, and at the meetings with government officials they are often putting questions related to social issues.
Social media users in Artsakh have been also actively discussing this issue, uploading on their pages the pictures that read: ‘Yes to Artsakh!’ or ‘I am against!’, depending on their position. There are also those, who think: ‘is doesn’t matter what is going on, the most important is that there be high pensions and jobs for children.’
According to a single poll, conducted in Karabakh by ‘Sociometer’ sociological center, the presidential model enjoys the population’s support. 75% of respondents are going to participate in ballot and 85% of them will vote for the proposed model. The authorities are also sure about it. And those, who oppose the constitutional reforms, admit that the referendum will have a positive outcome for the authorities.
The opinions expressed in the article convey the author’s terminology and views and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial staff.