03, 2021

We are neither right nor left, neither black nor white, but we are trying to protect and preserve our state interests. An exclusive interview of President Armen Sarkissian to aravot.am website and "Aravot" daily (part 1)

The President of the Republic Armen Sarkissian gave an exclusive interview to aravot.am website and "Aravot" daily. Below, we present the first part of the interview.

Aram Abrahamyan: Mr. President, the question refers to the ways of overcoming the crisis in the country. You invited the Prime Minister, the parliamentary factions, and the extra-parliamentary opposition, which was holding rallies, to round table talks. However, they did not gather at the round table. Why?

I think you should ask them this question. I cannot answer for them. It is a pity. I think that I will continue to talk to everyone, and try to finally come to some harmony, agreement, compromise, and tolerance. It is not possible without that.

It does not matter to me that the behaviour of some political forces and parties has even been disrespectful because, as President, I leave their expressions aside and look at the situation that exists in our country today and those challenges and problems that we have today. I shall repeat: it is wrong to personify; therefore, as I have tried to talk to everyone, I will continue to call for dialogues and for tolerance. We have no other way.

It is impossible for anyone, or one or two parties, to get the country out of this situation alone. We all should contribute to our common cause, and be disciplined every day in our hard work to rebuild our home. Therefore, even if we go to the polls because the three parliamentary parties have decided, I hope that during the whole course, before the elections and after that, we will all behave in a civilized way.

Aram Abrahamyan: To continue the question, in our previous interview, you made your suggestions, and said that the Prime Minister should resign, a government of national accord or that of technocrats should be formed during which the Electoral Code and certain articles of the Constitution would be amended, and then elections would be held. That did not happen. It is not possible to amend the Electoral Code within two months, especially the Constitution. Therefore, it is not what you wanted. Will holding elections on June 20 solve the political crisis or not?

- First, let us go back to my suggestion in our previous conversation that the government should resign. Again, unlike many, I do not personalize policies, decisions, and processes. According to my proposal, the government should have resigned. At this, my proposal is not my personal opinion, but a process accepted in many countries or in international practice. If you are a parliamentary republic, and there is a critical situation, the government resigns, and a government of national accord is formed. Reaching agreement, the main parties form a government or a government of national accord, but at zero. There is no political force, only professional people. If you are a country where the National Assembly, the public, and the political forces, either leading or in opposition, think that there is a need for an electoral code and constitutional changes, then enough time should be given to that government to organize discussions, including a referendum. This is the ideal solution that I agree with even today. I have not changed my mind.

Today, we have a different situation, when the three political forces of the National Assembly have decided to hold elections, and they have declared a day. The day, of course, must be announced or will be announced as a result of some process, but at least it is supposed to be in the second half of June, which leaves very little time for everything we have talked about. I will continue to insist that, after all, if we think that our Constitution and the Electoral Code need reforming, and if we do not want the political forces to blame each other again after the elections, then we must work to be as close as possible to the suggestion I made. Otherwise, after the elections, by some scenario or random chance, a party happens to be in the majority, and the others may not be satisfied. We may have such a National Assembly where no party holds the majority, and then various problems may arise within, which means to have an unstable and unbalanced National Assembly.

There may be various possible solutions, which, unfortunately, may lead to a political crisis again.

Aram Abrahamyan - The Constitution has often changed due to the political set-up, it changed quickly, and then we, roughly speaking, "fell into the fire." That is why I always have doubts when there is talk of changing the Constitution. I know that there is talk now, and you have discussed this issue with the Prime Minister. Will we fall into the same trap again?

-I have discussed this issue not only with the Prime Minister. You have two options, either you accept that this Constitution, good or bad, is what we have, and let us continue to live with it, or you try to amend that Constitution, or rather, change it, which will be more logical, and it will serve better to the people and the state.

Personally, I cannot judge which is better, the presidential or the parliamentary form of government? In principle, both can be good, and both can be bad; in fact, there is no difference, and the simple examples of that are the two big countries, Germany and France. One is a parliamentary state, the other is presidential. Both are successful states, neither of which is considering changing its Constitution. The Germans do not want to become presidential, and the French do not want to become a parliamentary state. Consequently, both options can be very successful and serve well, and both can fail.

The question is not which is good. The question is more private: what kind of Constitution do you need? Does the Constitution that you adopted in due course meet today's requirements? Did you leave deficiencies in certain places by adopting that Constitution at the time? When I agreed to become President, my contribution was expected to be in the relations with the Diaspora, in the field of investments, in science and education, and in technologies, which in its turn implied some legislative changes, so that the President could fulfill those responsibilities. The Constitution entered into force after my inauguration; my colleagues and I encountered issues related to the Constitution; and not to talk about this and to remain silent, saying that talking is meaningless … I do not think it is right.

Secondly, it would be wrong to call our Constitution a purely parliamentary one, as in any parliamentary or presidential system, there are definite mechanisms of balance and restraints that we do not have. We are not talking about the tools given to the President, but about the issues connected with the NA and society, and other institutions.

If you have a strong government and a society that lives in harmony with itself, you do not notice the unevenness of the Constitution. It begins with political, economic, and other types of problems and crises. Therefore, today you face problems related to the Constitution itself at every opportunity. Take the Italian Republic, which is also parliamentary; in many ways, there are similarities in our constitutions. The Italian Constitution states that the President of the Republic may dissolve the National Assembly in times of crisis. It is just one sentence. Italian President Matarella never interferes in the activities of the executive power; me too, I never try to interfere in the activities of the executive power, and the political process, in general. I have always tried to be in the middle, that is why the President and his Institution are criticized from the right and the left. If your decision on some law or event coincides with the government's decision, then maybe the government is satisfied, but the opposition throws stones at you. If on the contrary, your decision coincides with the wishes of the opposition, you become their man and a hero, but suddenly if it does not coincide somehow, you are stoned again. As there is stoning from both sides, I think we are correct because we are neither right nor left, we are neither black nor white, and we are trying to protect and preserve the state interests.

Having this small tool, President Matarella has overcome political crises in Italy several times. In the latter case, President Matarella invited Draghi, the President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a professional to form a professional government instead of a political one, until the next election. This small tool allows the President of the Republic to overcome critical situations before the next election.

Unfortunately, we have an immense lack of such tools in the Constitution. You do not need many tools. Here is a simple example. The law comes to the President of the Republic, the President has the opportunity to either sign the law from the National Assembly, or if the given law, according to the President, his lawyers or advisory opinions, contains constitutional issues, take the case to the Constitutional Court. Or, simply not to sign, and after a couple of days, the NA Speaker signs the document, and it becomes a law.

Suppose the law applies to education and the education system. Let us recall that the President of the Republic has spent most of his life in that sphere. In other words, I have some idea about the education system, and therefore, I can evaluate such a law as a specialist. I see that this law has no problem with the Constitution, but it can harm the education system. Why does the President of the Republic not have the right to return that law with his remarks to the National Assembly, asking that the National Assembly discuss and vote once more, taking the President's proposals into account? I do not think there is anything negative in this.

I think such changes in the Constitution are necessary. But an extensive discussion on returning to the presidential system needs time, and that time must be used properly. Serious public discussions with specialists, experts, and professionals are required. The entire society must be involved in such a discussion to decide once and for all what Constitution we need, and after that never return to that issue.

Aram Abrahamyan: Mr. President, after the previous interview, I was asked if the President says a government of technocrats or that of national accord, what mechanisms, what constitutional mechanisms are there to shape it? In other words, does the National Assembly give up all political ambitions and elect such a government? Is that possible?

- I want to mention again that it is possible if the main parties in the National Assembly make a political decision and do what you say. However, to do that, they have to make a decision. My suggestion was not a practical one; the president says we should go this way, and with his next step, he orders how to do that. Let me bring the same example: if the Constitution of our Republic had the same sentence as in the Constitution of the Italian Republic, then I would invite the Prime Minister and have a conversation with him, proposing that either the President of the Republic dissolves the National Assembly, or the National Assembly goes the way, suggested by the President of the Republic. In this case, the President of the Italian Republic set forward the proposal of a government of technocrats, and the Italian National Assembly accepted it. One sentence in the Italian Constitution allowed the President to do what was possible in Italy, and the President of the Republic of Armenia not to do what was desired.

Aram Abrahamyan: It is clear.

The most intriguing is Onik Gasparyan's story, the question of whether or not to apply to the Constitutional Court, which, to put it mildly, has been sharply criticized by both the government and the opposition. Please comment on your actions.

- First of all, I am happy if it has been hotly criticized by both sides, So, I probably made the right decision. Naturally, when the Prime Minister's proposal came to dismiss Onik Gasparyan, the expectation was that the President of the Republic should sign. However, since all this happened after the statement of the Chief of General Staff and his colleagues, naturally, my first step was the following: I will not sign any document until I meet with the people. I went to the General Staff, met with Onik Gasparyan. There were people present, then I met with the generals separately, it lasted quite a few hours. I do not think it is ethically right to tell you what we talked about with Onik Gasparyan. After that, we met again with Onik Gasparyan and the generals. I can convey my general impression. First of all, it was clear to me that neither Onik Gasparyan, nor the generals of the General Staff were going to take any other step except their statement. This was a statement, and it was clear to me from their speeches as well. This was a statement, and it was clear to me from their speeches as well. During the meeting with the generals, I heard things about the army I already knew, and others that were new to me. After that meeting, my conclusion (after consulting with colleagues, lawyers, and taking into account separate opinions) was the following: there is a Prima Facie constitutional issue. And I made it clear that I would not sign, I sent it to the Prime Minister, according to the procedure, the Prime Minister sent back his opinion, I again confirmed for the second time that I would not sign, I will take the issue to the Constitutional Court, as I did.

When I stated that I would not sign, the opposition you are talking about announced that the President had joined them. It is a pity that for three years, they have not paid attention to how the President and the Presidential Institution work. However, they had their own ideas on how I should apply to the Constitutional Court: in their opinion, it was on the issue of Onik Gasparyan's personal case. But I thought that the President should apply in respect of the law and its operation in general, exemplifying with the case of Onik Gasparyan in the application, i.e. a similar case, with the dismissal process, and the appointment, and the Prima Facie constitutional matters connected with that law, in general. I did as I thought, but this did not satisfy the opposition; the words "At last, we have a President; the President joined us" were replaced by others.

I am absolutely convinced that what we did is right. We did the right thing for the stability of the state and the country, we applied to the Constitutional Court to find the right solution.

Now, the case is in the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court could have shown its attitude on the first day, or I do not know, some N-day. When the Prime Minister again asked me to sign the new appointment instead of Onik Gasparyan, as you know, I again refused. I said I would not sign, but I did not apply to the Constitutional Court because I had already applied for that. In other words, my application included not only the case of Onik Gasparyan but all possible cases. Therefore, it was right for me to apply to the Constitutional Court in this way.

There is criticism that I like because I like to hear people's opinions. And if someone speaks common sense, I'm always ready to listen but I am also ready to argue with people proving that in this case, I think I am right until one of us logically proves that he is more right. I do not think that we as an institution acted wrongly, we acted correctly and applied to the Constitutional Court at the right time and in the right way. This gave Onik Gasparyan an opportunity to appeal to the administrative court. During those days, I met Onik Gasparyan not once but several times. I met with the Prime Minister, the parties represented in the National Assembly, and the opposition. 

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