INDEPENDENT CIVIL INSTITUTES MUST REFRAIN FROM ADVOCATING FOR OR AGAINST DRAFT AMENDMENTS TO RA CONSTITUTION
The President of Armenia Robert Kocharian supported the draft of amendments to the RA Constitution and appointed the date for the referendum – November 27, 2005. Thus, the document development process is over, and the fate of the Main Law of the country will be decided by national ballot.
As it was noted in the statement of Yerevan Press Club, disseminated before the third hearing of the draft amendments at the Parliament, “the public of Armenia has been insufficiently involved in the constitutional reform process; attention was not duly paid to a number of alternative proposals made, as a result of which certain provisions of the draft continue to arise serious concerns” (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, September 9-15, 2005 ).
After that several editorial revisions were made, also as proposed by YPC. Yet, in the most principal issues of concern to the journalistic community (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, August 25 – September 1, 2005, July 8-14, 2005, September 9-15, 2005) and referring mostly to the formation of independent bodies regulating the broadcast media sphere, the Armenian lawmakers and the President have, in fact, declined the proposed amendments.
Yerevan Press Club maintains that the Constitution must not define detailed procedures for the appointment (election) of bodies, regulating specific spheres. Instead it was proposed to stipulate in the Main Law the participation of the RA National Assembly in the formation of independent (not constituting a part of the executive power) structures, created on temporary or permanent basis to regulate spheres of particular public significance. The Constitution in force gives an exhaustive description of the function of the NA and it excludes its involvement in the formation of similar structures. This has repeatedly caused dead-end situations and became a subject of criticism on behalf of local and foreign experts. However, the draft amendments did not give a solution to the problem; exception was made only for the participation of the NA in the appointment of the RA Human Rights Defender and the members of the broadcast regulatory body. It was initially proposed that the latter should be nominated by the President and approved by the Parliament.
The journalistic associations insisted that if the constitutional reform stipulated the involvement of the legislators in the formation of regulatory bodies only in certain spheres, the procedure should then be turned from head to feet: the members of this structure should be nominated by the Parliament and be approved by the President. However, here, too, the authors of the draft decided to make only partial concessions, proposing an option when half of the member would be elected by the Parliament and half – appointed by the President.
YPC and its partners again displayed their readiness for compromise: let this be 50/50, but the procedure should apply not to one, but to two bodies, regulating both public and private broadcasting (in Armenia these are the Council of Public TV and Radio Company, and the National Commission on Television and Radio), since all the documents of the Council of Europe on the commitments of Armenia to the CE referred not to the “body”, but “the bodies” that regulate broadcasting.
The further developments showed the invincible affection of the Armenian authorities towards “the singular”, moreover, they rejected the last, compromise proposal by YPC: to make a distinct specification in the Constitution that the body to be established, since it is one and only, should regulate both private and public broadcasting. Thus, it became obvious that “the independent body” is envisaged solely for the regulation of the activities of private broadcasters, and the Public TV and Radio Company remains the patrimony of the President of the country, who forms the Council at his own discretion.
While the rationale that Armenian authorities have behind this story is transparent – to retain maximum control over broadcast media, the approval given to the appropriate provision in the draft amendments by the Council of Europe Venice Commission is not quite in the line with the context of CE demands on Armenia fulfilling its commitments. These commitments, in particular, called for the transformation of state broadcasting into public. Meanwhile it has become clear – long ago and for everybody – that under the present procedure of forming the Council of Public TV and Radio Company it is not a transformation that we have but a pure change of the label. And the constitutional reform came to change nothing in this regard.
Besides, the reports of the CE monitoring groups repeatedly raised the issue about the soonest change of the composition of the National Commission on Television and Radio (meaning that this body discredited itself by having ousted from the air the independent “A1+” TV company). However, the transitional provisions of the current constitutional amendments stipulate that the present NCTR members retain their positions until the official end of their terms. Therefore, the membership proportion, as provided for by the amendments (even given its very limited independence), will be fully realized no sooner than in 6 years! Meanwhile, the National Commission will hold many more “impartial” broadcast licensing competitions! Yet, even this circumstance caused no objections on behalf of the Venice Commission…
Such examples of partial modifications and negligence for constructive proposals in the process of constitutional reform can be quoted from other spheres, too. Thus, it is strange to hear the opinions of representatives of different international organizations saying that the draft takes into account the expectations of the public at large and the work on the document was held in an open atmosphere.
Anyhow, the final text of the draft Constitution with amendments is ready. On the one hand, it contains provisions that are indisputably progressive. On the other, some of its sections are in no way compliant with the demands of the present stage of democratic development and the level of political thinking, proper to a country aspiring for Europe. Unfortunately, it cannot be said that the society is offered an unequivocal choice between past and future. The decision to be made by each voter is rather political than contextual: not so much for better or worse Constitution, but rather for or against the present authorities, for whom the success of the referendum is a guarantee of success in the upcoming elections, and the failure is an alarming signal on the eve of 2007-2008 election cycle and significant decline of international reputation.
In this regard it seems that the most correct behavior for independent civil structures of Armenia is to refrain from advocating either for or against the amendments. Any such appeal, whether we want it or not, will mean supporting certain political forces. This is hardly the mission of independent public organizations or the press. The task of the latter is to achieve utmost public awareness, to help it impartially comprehend the essence of the amendments proposed, in realization so its objective interests and informed voting. Also – in ensuring the free display of people’s will and fair results of the referendum. The solution of these tasks, no matter what the distribution of votes on November 27 is, will signify the victory of democracy and real progress against the sad political practice of the past decade.