So, on August 21, the President of the Republic of Armenia sent the draft of constitutional changes to the Parliament. The draft had been developed and submitted to the President on the very same day by the expert committee for development of draft of constitutional changes (we should note that in this case the President did not wait a single day and immediately gave a start to the process of constitutional changes from the legal perspective). Let us try to understand what elements that process entails and in what time frame it may happen.
At the Latest
According to Paragraph 5 of Article 111 of the still operating RA Constitution, “If the initiative belongs to the President of the republic, the National Assembly shall within a three-month period following the receipt of the draft of the Constitution or amendments thereof put the issue on holding a referendum on the draft to vote. If the majority of the total number of the deputies of the National Assembly vote for the draft, the latter shall be deemed adopted and the President of the Republic shall submit the draft to a referendum on the date set up by himself/herself”. Such a provision is also included in Part 1 of Article 78 of the Law on “Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly”. Based on this provision, we can conclude that the maximum term when the National Assembly will vote on the draft by third reading and completely, is November 21 of this year. This means that the National Assembly should fit within this time frame and express its position on the draft by vote.
If the National Assembly adopts a decision on approving the draft and giving consent to put it to referendum within the mentioned term (to achieve that, according to Article 111 of the Constitution and Part 3 of Article 74 of the Law on “Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly, it is necessary that more than half of the total number of deputies vote for approving the draft, which is more than probable in the existing conditions), the Speaker of the National Assembly, according to part 5 of Article 78 of the same law, sends the decision of the National Assembly on giving consent on putting the draft of constitutional changes to referendum to the President of the Republic of Armenia within a period of 7 days (that is, not later than November 28 of this year). According to Part 6 of Article 7 of the RA Law on Referendum, “the president of the republic announces the referendum within a period of seven days after getting the consent from the National Assembly”. It means that the decree of the president of the Republic of Armenia on announcing a referendum should be published not later than December 5 of this year.
The periods of holding a referendum are determined by Part 7 of Article 7 of the RA Law on Referendum. Accordingly, the referendum should be held not earlier than 55 and not later than 65 days after the day of official publication of the presidential decree on holding a referendum (as a rule, the official publication is made on the following Wednesday, during a period of 10 days after receiving the draft, that is, on December 9 or December 16). It means that in this given case, the referendum should be held from February 10 to February 20, 2016. And if we take into consideration that, as a rule, the referendums are held on Sundays, we can state that the latest possible day of holding the referendum is February 14, 2016.
At the Earliest
Regarding the earliest possible term, the calculation is slightly more complicated here. It is highly probable that, taking into account the absolute majority of the Republican Party of Armenia in the National Assembly and the formed practice, both the National Assembly and the President of the republic will not use the terms stipulated by law completely and will try to “overfulfill the plan”, figuratively speaking. In that case, if we take into account that the staff of the National Assembly and the Government, as well as the lead committee of the National Assembly (in this case, the Committee on State and Legal Affairs) will not fully use the respective 30 and 40-day terms (Article 76, RA Law on “Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly”) for giving a conclusion, and will try to rapidly complete their task before the term predetermined by the head of RPA faction Vahram Baghdasaryan, i.e. September 14, the draft will be discussed in the first four days of the fall session of the National Assembly (which will start on September 14). If we consider that, in case of such an important document, there will be many people who will ask questions and deliver speeches, the document will be voted on by first reading not earlier than September 17. Starting from that moment, the deputies will get the right to submit their suggestions to the keynote speaker within a 14-day period, i.e. up to and including October 1 (if no other term is determined by NA decree). Though the latter should accept or reject them within a 30-day term, we cannot exclude that 4 days will be enough for him/her, and the issue will be put to a second reading on October 5 (on the day of start of the four-day session) and will be voted on October 8. Starting from that moment, the process of submitting the draft for the third reading begins, which may last maximum 30 days. But it is probable that it will be done rapidly. In this case, a special session may be convened during the second ten days of October, during which the draft will be voted on for the third reading and will be adopted completely. And if we take into account the fact that the NA Speaker and the RA President may not wait and may carry out the functions assigned to them during 1 day, we can state that, in that case, the referendum will be held on December 20, taking into consideration the provisions of the law and the practice.
However, as the National Assembly can determine a shorter period for the second reading of the draft, we cannot exclude that the referendum will be held on December 6.
Of course, it is theoretically possible that the draft is not approved by the National Assembly. But the possibility of such a scenario is extremely low. In any case, there is no doubt that the referendum will be held during the coming winter.
“Union of Informed Citizens”