Thursday, December 10, 2015

Armenia's New Parliamentary Constitution

While here in the United States we have been remembering Pearl Harbor and going off on Donald Trump's blatant bigotry, something very important has been taking place in my ancestral country of Armenia.

A constitutional referendum took place on Sunday which would move Armenia from a presidential system of governance to a parliamentary system of governance--there would still be a president, but the president would no longer be directly elected by the people, military power would shift to the office of the prime minister, and there would be fewer seats in the Armenian congress.

The referendum passed by a 2-1 (66-33) margin.  However, if you look at the pair of opinion polls in the Wiki entry linked to above, you see somewhat less support for a "no" vote but *far* less support for a "yes" vote.

And okay, opinion polls can be wrong.  But they're usually not off by 30+ points, and Armenia has a history do I put early and voting often.  Ten years ago, in 2005, Armenia had another constitutional referendum (itself necessitated after a 2003 constitutional referendum failed due to the number of "yes" votes not totaling more than 33% of all registered voters), which resulted in nearly a 95% "yes" vote--that's "Is chocolate yummy?" numbers.  That's "Is the sky blue?" numbers, and the other 5% reply, "Well, it's really more of a cerulean to me."

The 2005 referendum was noted by international observers from the Council of Europe to suffer from problems of ballot stuffing and other voting "irregularities" (as though undemocratic practices can be solved for by the liberal use of laxatives), and the 2015 referendum has received much of the same criticism from the very same international election observers for the very same crimes: fraud, ballot stuffing, etc., although, interestingly enough, no such criticism came from Russian election observers.

(And this is not even getting into the violent reaction to the 2008 election that brought current Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan into power that resulted in the deaths of 8 protesters, a police officer, and a soldier.)

A word of context here: Armenia has a very close relationship with Russia both because of history (Armenia is one of the former Soviet Socialist States that made up the USSR) and because of necessity (Armenia's eastern and western borders are entirely blockaded by Azerbaijan and Turkey, leaving Armenia dependent on other nations around it for trade).

This is saddening from an Armenian-American perspective for a variety of reasons: the Armenian diaspora is especially large in the western countries of the United States and France, and Russia under Vladimir Putin has become increasingly belligerent.

The new Armenian constitution has elicited from its opponents charges that it would enable a very similar setup that Putin now enjoys in Russia where he simply gets to rule into perpetuity, trading off between the offices of president and prime minister.  Serzh Sargsyan is approaching the end of his second term as president, and this new constitution creates a new office--prime minister--for him to move into while still retaining his status as commander-in-chief while a figurehead gets elected president not by the people, but by the congress.

That's simply no way for a democracy--especially one as young and as unstable as Armenia's--to grow and to flourish.

While this post remains outside the usual realm of my blog posts about American Christianity, I still believe it worthy of our attention--not just because of Armenia's relationship with Putin's Russia, and not just because of the large Armenian diaspora here in the States, but simply because democracy and the rule of law are what define us as a civilization of humanity, not simply of humans.

And while I love the country my family was forced to leave a century ago, this manner of "democracy" demands my criticism and condemnation.

Vancouver, Washington
December 10, 2015

Image of Armenia in the colors of the Armenian flag courtesy of Blogspot.

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