20 April, 2018 17:44

There was a clear danger that Sargsyan is becoming “the Armenian Putin”

Dr. Fernando Casal Bértoa is a comparative political scientist and Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham. He has been engaged in the debate regarding constitutional reform since 2014-2015 in Armenia. Back in 2015, in an interview with CivilNet,  he said that the transition to a parliamentary form of government might help Armenia become more democratic. Meanwhile, he was stressing that what Armenia needs most is power alteration. Dr. Bertoa spoke to CivilNet recently about the current protest movement in Armenia.

- Dr. Bertoa, You have probably followed the recent developments and know that the transition to parliamentary constitution here resulted in the former president’s continued grip on power as he was just elected to be Prime Minister, still holding the key position in the country. What are your thoughts? Where are all these developments leading the country to?

- Well, knowing the Russian precedent, there was a clear danger that something like this (i.e. Sargsyan becoming “the Armenian Putin”) would happen. In my view, the spirit of the constitutional reform has been broken and Armenian institutions have been clearly perverted. The future of Armenian “transition to democracy” is clearly less bright today than it was one week ago!

- Under the current and new constitution, the prime minister appears to be even more powerful than the president was under the earlier edition of the constitution. Do you think the constitutional reform was a pure manipulation? And if so, how could many distinguished experts and even such respected organization as the Venice Commission fall victim to such trivial manipulation by endorsing the constitutional reform as a pro-democratic development? Do you think they also thought that a president’s pledge not to run as a head of government could not be breached so openly?

As I already pointed out in our previous interview, it clearly seems so. If you recall it properly, I compared Sargsyan with other “heroes” of illiberal democracy as Chávez in Venezuela or Correa in Ecuador. For me it was pretty obvious that something like this could happen.

To be fair, we shouldn’t blame the Venice Commission or other respected organisations. They were just assessing the legal and political consequences of the institutional reform, and they were right. Notwithstanding certain discrepancies, ever since Juan Linz’s seminal studies, parliamentarism has been considered to be less perilous for the consolidation of democracy. I, myself, have conducted studies on the matter showing how parliamentarism, ceteris paribus, fosters party and party system institutionalization. But if the elites want to pervert the institutions (see the current examples of Poland, Hungary, Catalonia, etc.), then there is not much it can be done. Because, as we know from the Weimar Republic examples, even the most perfect constitution can lead to dictatorship.

- Are you surprised by the powerful public protest that emerged in the last few days in Armenia? How would the public react to such blatant manifestation of political manipulation in your country, Spain, following its transition from dictatorship?

- I am not surprised at all. Armenians have been fooled, and they are just simply showing their disappointment with the authorities. As many colour revolutions in Eastern Europe have shown us, citizens can also grow tired of corrupt and illiberal elites.

In Spain, and notwithstanding the very important differences, we had a very similar situation recently when the Catalan government perverted both the Constitution and the Catalan laws. The popular reaction was a peaceful demonstration with more than a million people on the streets of Barcelona. Freedom and democracy are not given. One has to “fight” for them, preferably in a peaceful manner.

Fernando Casal Bértoa is Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham. He is co-director of REPRESENT (Research Centre for the Study of Parties and Democracy) and Senior Fellow with Apella Institute (Yerevan, Armenia). He is currently co-writing a book on Party System Closure: Alliances and Innovations between 1848 and 2017 for Oxford University Press.

Read more:

What Armenia Really Needs is Power Alternation

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