Restrictions on the constitutional basis for local democracy and local self-government in Armenia become unprecedentedly risky

Restrictions on the constitutional basis for local democracy and local self-government in Armenia become unprecedentedly risky

18.02.2021

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges for democratic institutions around the world. The sphere of local self-government in Armenia also bears those consequences.

Unfortunately, as a result of the state of emergency and martial law in Armenia, as well as individual political decisions, the principles of local democracy have become more vulnerable, causing risks of violation of constitutional rights.

It should be noted that until now we already have several communities in Armenia, where the term of office of the Council of Elders and heads of communities have expired, and new elections are not held under the state of emergency and then martial law. In several communities, acting heads of communities have been appointed by the RA Prime Minister or regional governors. Among them, there are communities where there is no elected Council of Elders, and the head of the community has been appointed by the central authorities.

In the neareast future, the number of such communities will increase, as a result of which the constitutional right of self-government of the members of such communities is actually restricted, the basic principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government are violated.

During the past years, we have repeatedly raised the issue of the unconstitutionality of the appointment of the acting head of the community by the central authorities, proposed relevant legislative solutions. However, this practice continues, and it will get larger volume within the framework of the current legal regulations, under the conditions of martial law restrictions.

On June 18, 2020, in the conditions of the pandemic, without sufficient discussions and consultations, on the initiative of the Government of the Republic of Armenia, the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia made amendments to the RA Law on Local Self-Government, establishing a proportional electoral system for Councils of Elders. At the same time, the constitutional right of many community leaders to be elected was violated in all cases when the mandate of the Council of Elders ends earlier than that of the incumbent head of the community.

The situation contradicts the principles of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, the European Charter on Local Self-Government, as well as the recommendations of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe  "Local and Regional Elections in Major Crisis Situations" (2021) and “Ensuring the Respect of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in Major Crisis Situations” (2020). 

The Union of Communities of Armenia has developed a package of legislative changes aimed at overcoming this situation. 

On February 16, a legislative initiative was put into circulation also by the Government of the Republic of Armenia to extend the term of office of the Council of Elders, whose term of office is coming to an end, until the formation of the newly elected Council of Elders. The same is not envisaged in the case of the heads of communities. Being a partial solution, it discriminates against elected mayors, as well as does not fully respond to the challenges that have arisen. 

Therefore, I call on the RA Government and the NA factions, with urgent legislative changes: 

  1. To remove the unconstitutional norms of appointing an acting head of community by the RA Prime Minister or the regional governor, and fix that the right to appoint the acting head of the community belongs to the Community Council.
  2. To define that in case of a state of emergency or martial law, as well as in any case, when it is impossible to hold local elections or the term of office of those bodies ends before the election day, those bodies shall hold office until the beginning of the term of the newly elected Council of Elders and/or head of community, ensuring the continuity of local self-government.

 Emin Yeritsyan,

President of the Union of Communities of Armenia

February 18, 2021

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