In another attempt to limit Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s sweeping powers, a major opposition party put forward on Wednesday a bill that would turn Armenia’s police and National Security Service (NSS) into government ministries accountable to the parliament.
The bill drafted by the Bright Armenia Party (LHK) also calls
for merging the State Revenue Committee (SRC), which comprises the national tax and customs services, with the Finance Ministry.
The police, the NSS and the SRC were directly controlled by Armenia’s presidents under the previous, presidential system of government. Former President Serzh Sarkisian made sure that they will be subordinate to the prime minister when he enacted controversial constitutional changes that turned Armenia into a parliamentary republic.
Sarkisian planned to stay in power as prime minister after serving out his second presidential term in April 2018. Pashinian, Edmon Marukian and other leaders of the now defunct Yelk alliance accused him of introducing a “super prime-ministerial” system of government with the aim of maintaining a tight grip on power.
Pashinian has been reluctant to change that system since he swept to power in last spring’s “velvet revolution.” His stance prompted criticism late last year from the LHK, which is headed by Marukian.
Marukian again recalled Pashinian’s past support for curbing the prime minister’s executive powers as he presented the LHK bill to the press. “We all stood at that time for bringing the police, the NSS and the SRC back into the government structure,” he said.
“All these agencies would thus fall under parliamentary oversight. There would no longer be government bodies [directly] subordinate to the prime minister,” Marukian said of the bill, arguing that that would be consistent with the parliamentary system.
Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian indicated that the government remains opposed to the proposed change. “The chief of the NSS and the chief of the police are not political positions,” he said. “Their holders are individuals who come from the [law-enforcement] system. They may be appointed by the prime minister but they represent that system.”
A separate bill on the new structure of the Armenian government approved by Pashinian’s cabinet on March 7 would not change the current status of the three important agencies and would instead cut the number of government ministries from 17 to 12. In Avinian’s words, the bill will soon be submitted to the parliament for approval.
Pashinian’s My Step bloc controls 88 seats in the National Assembly, compared with 18 seats held by the LHK.