“The constitution draft bill provides foreign governments new possibilities to control the domestic politics of Armenia” – Mikayel Zolyan

mikaNopasaran.am has a conversation with political analyst Mikayel Zolyan 

Mr. Zolyan, what are the most dangerous clauses, from a political perspective, in the draft bill? 

The most dangerous change would be the process of forming a parliamentary majority that would allow for a de facto removal of the institution of elections in Armenia given that it would give the ruling party in Armenia to keep a grip on power. 

If we look at history, presidential elections in Armenia have been the hardest to rig. Administrative resources have been more effectively used during parliamentary elections. Things have been more complicated during presidential ones. Even though the authorities have declared themselves the winner during the latter, they have maintained power by the skin of their teeth. The people have rebelled, the opposition has united. In other words, presidential elections have always been a headrace for the authorities. Thus while MPs of the ruling Republican Party say they want to liberate the people from such a headache, in reality, they are freeing themselves from it. 

I want to discuss another important issue. The constitution draft bill provides foreign governments new possibilities to control the domestic politics of Armenia. Here’s how. If we currently have the office of president, and the person has to be born in Armenia, the new constitution provides for a prime minister elected by the parliament. It is all too likely that we will experience the same situation as in Georgia where the most influential person doesn’t hold office but has appointed his confidant prime minister and another has become president. That influential person, in effect, assumes no responsibility. We can have the same here. Furthermore, that very influential person might not be a citizen of Armenia or one who lives here. 

We have already seen some figures that have certain designs regarding Armenia. While they might not be MPs in the formal sense, but they can form a political force that, by using its resources, can form a majority and appoint one of its cronies as prime minister. I believe that the current authorities do not comprehend the dangers when they draft the text of the constitution. 

When writing the changes what was important for them was to shut the door on the opposition. In reality, however, they fell in their own trap and it will be difficult to extricate themselves from it. 

A change in the system of governance also assumes other changes and realignment within the regime. If the changes are adopted what future do you see for Armenia? 

I am convinced that even if the proposed constitution passes it won’t last long. Even if we accept that a parliamentary system is good for Armenia, there are so many problems in the draft constitution that the need will arise to edit and modify it in the first few years after passing. 

I do not want to delve into the text itself because even it was a perfect text the regime lacks public confidence in all quarters to allow it to launch such a serious project. 

When talking about the draft constitution bill, you point out the possible serious political processes and changes that can result. Without having a clear picture of what can result if the bill passes, how can voters make an informed decision at the ballot box? 

No matter how much we criticize Armenia’s citizens, a large segment understands who is lying and who isn’t. In this context, the “Yes” campaign clearly contains no logic. What is completely clear, simply, is that the ruling party and the person currently in charge in Armenia, is telling people to vote “Yes”. A majority of citizens, and I permit myself to say so, has a negative opinion of them. 

What is the best way to express that negative opinion? Do you believe it is enough to tell people that the regime will perpetually retain power in order that citizens vote “No” in the referendum? 

It is enough so that they don’t vote “Yes”. They will not vote “Yes”. But there is another problem. The people are disillusioned and many will not participate in the referendum. Given this situation, the regime can use administrative resources in their favor. 

If the regime mobilizes these people who, for whatever reason, have an interest in participating and voting “Yes”, and those with a negative opinion of the authorities and who are inclined to vote “No” do not participate, then, of course, the “Yes” camp might win. But if people participate and vote, the “No” camp will dominate. All will become clear during the final days leading up to the referendum. 

It is also important to prove that the regime’s “Yes” campaign is having the opposite effect, given that following the debates underway in social websites I get the sense that if there were people up till now who weren’t interested in the referendum and weren’t influenced by opposition arguments, the regime’s “Yes” campaign has had an opposite effect on them and they have started to think and discuss all of which appears on the “No” camp’s banners.