chapter  8
Armenia: constitutional design, accountability and European integration ARMEN MAZMANYAN
Pages 22

Introduction Our quest for the patterns of inter-institutional accountability in Armenia need to be observed via reference to the semi-presidential settings in the foundations of both redactions of the Armenian Constitution. The emergence of the semipresidential Constitution in Armenia can be attributed to the general ‘path dependence’ on choices made in the major decision-making centre of the transition, well represented by the nearly famous speculation ‘As Russia goes, so goes the region’ (McFaul 2001: 91). But more notably, the rise of semipresidentialism in Armenia, as in other formerly Soviet countries in the beginning of the 1990s, was a reaction to the fairly strong conflicting tendencies of democratization on the one hand, and to the paternalistic culture and the realization of self-interest by the then powerful political leaders on the other. The conflict between these controversial tendencies marked the whole epoch between the initial years of democratic euphoria and the imminent arrival of democratic recession. The first president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, ascended to power as the leader of the national democratic movement back in 1990 – a figure as emblematic for Armenia as Valensa for Poland or Havel for the Czech – was soon to be associated with and blamed for a gradually increasing autocratic style. There has been an extraordinary blending of his controversial standing: a Soviet dissident and a fanatic democrat in the early 1990s, a quasi-autocratic ruler few years later, a president who first tolerated the faking of elections, who first banned opposition, but who resigned by his own will shortly after and who was again associated with the pro-democratic movement as late as 2008. Ter-Petrosyan is perhaps nothing but a typical manifestation of the uselessness of democratic ideals against the overwhelming force of the local political culture with its irresistible tendencies towards the concentration of power. As concentration of power had already proved to be the prevailing tendency, the Armenian Constitution of 1995 (mostly designed by the guidance from the then president, Ter-Petrosyan) provided for a strong head of state who dominated the other institutions. Elected for five years in office and with a right to be re-elected for another term, the president was granted responsibilities beyond what one would expect to be sufficient in order not to offend the concept of sep-

aration of powers. In fact, the president, called the ‘guarantor of the independence, territorial integrity and the security’ of the republic and responsible for ensuring ‘the normal functioning of the legislative, executive and judicial authorities’, possessed direct executive functions beyond the designated areas of national security on the one hand, and the power to supervise the harmonic functioning of the governmental branches on the other. Except for conventional ‘strategic’ executive responsibilities, such as foreign relations, army and security, the president was also empowered to appoint the government (to be further supported by the parliament), chair its meetings, sign legislative bills into laws and endorse governmental decrees. The president was responsible for appointing the ministers and could (and at many times did) arbitrarily change the prime minister. He could also dismiss the parliament (after formally consulting the prime minister), but this never happened. The system of local governance was dominated by governors who were formally appointed by the government but were in fact directly accountable to the president. The mayor of Yerevan (carrying the status of a governor) was to be appointed directly by the president. The president carried the responsibility of appointing all judges and the prosecutor general. Such a concentrated presidential authority left little if any powers out of the president’s orbits. One study (Markarov 2006: 162) of the 1995 constitutional system submits:

The constitution called for a separation of powers, but in actuality provided little, if any, means for real checks and balances, or any real guarantees for the branches to function independently. It could be argued that the government’s structure is overshadowed by the presidency.