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      The Council of Europe welcomes the result of the constitutional referendum...

The Council of Europe welcomes the result of the constitutional referendum...   31/01/2006

DECLARATION OF PACE'S MONITORING COMMITTEE ON THE CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM   

The Council of Europe welcomes the result of the 27/11/2005, constitutional referendum in Armenia paving the way to reforms demanded by the organisation, but regrets the conditions under which the referendum was conducted.

by Nicolas Tavitian

Council of Europe, 31/1/2006

Having initially failed for lack of a quorum in 2003, a revised constitution was adopted by referendum on 27 November 2005.The changes made in the Constitution, with the Venice Commission's assistance, will at last allow Armenia to make progress in respecting the commitments it accepted on joining the Council of Europe.

The Monitoring Committee notes, however, that Armenia has not taken the opportunity offered by the referendum to ensure organisation of electoral process, in full compliance with the Council of Europe standards, on the basic values of the European family.

The positive outcome of the referendum is certainly to be welcomed. But the end does not justify the means. Was it really necessary to stuff the ballot boxes and inflate the turnout artificially to get the reform through? The conclusions reached by the Parliamentary Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee which observed the referendum - unfortunately at only a few polling stations - and the many media and NGO reports can only cast doubt on the credibility of the official results.

The Monitoring Committee also regrets that the political debate on a reform of such importance for the country's future was not on a level with the issues: the absence of dialogue between the political groups, the belated organisation of a genuine public information campaign, and the opposition's appeal to voters to boycott the referendum or vote against, deprived the country of calm and constructive discussion.

Equally regrettable is the attitude of the opposition, which withdrew most of its members from the electoral commissions, thus depriving itself of the possibility of contesting in court the frauds and irregularities of which it complained.

Similarly, the Attorney General's refusal to investigate specific cases of fraud, e.g. stuffing of ballot boxes and falsification of electoral registers, even though these had been publicly denounced by the President of the Armenian Parliament, can only cast doubt on the authorities' determination to promote rule-of-law democracy. In this context, the few voters prosecuted for voting more than once seem mere scapegoats, allowing the authorities to evade their political responsibilities.

As far as the Monitoring Committee is concerned, Armenia's implementation of the new constitutional provisions will be a major test of its political determination to bring the country genuinely closer to European values. This is a question, not just of at last adopting the legislative reforms hitherto blocked by an unsuitable Constitution, but above all of creating a political climate which will ensure that the parliamentary elections in 2007, and the presidential election in 2008, respect European standards.

This will involve strengthening all the country's democratic institutions, by comparison with the excessive powers of the presidency, and promoting independence of the judiciary, free and pluralist functioning of the electronic media, and effective freedom of assembly, to mention only the most urgent priorities. In this connection, the controversy currently surrounding the functioning of the Ombudsman's Office during the transition period leading up to his successor's election by parliament does not augur well.

The Monitoring Committee now expects the Armenian authorities to produce a detailed timetable for adoption of the reforms which Armenia must complete to honour its obligations and commitments to the Council of Europe.

The Monitoring Committee will continue to work for effective co-operation between the Council of Europe and Armenia in all areas where the Organisation can provide political support and technical assistance. But it will also redouble its vigilance in the coming year, to ensure that the future reforms are fully in line with the Council's standards and requirements.

Links:
www.coe.am/en/


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