The National Assembly and the Mechanisms of Control and Accountability of the Government

The National Assembly and the Mechanisms of Control and Accountability of the Government

The Republic of Armenia is a sovereign, democratic, social state governed by the rule of law. Power in the Republic of Armenia belongs to the people, exercised through free elections, referendums, as well as state and local self-governed bodies and officials provided by the Constitution. State power is exercised under the Constitution and laws, based on the division and balancing of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers. With the constitutional amendments made in 2015, the Republic of Armenia transitioned to the parliamentary system of government. This is how it actually works.

Text : Artak Begoyan    Photo : Araks Kocharyan

 

The National Assembly

The National Assembly is the representative body of the people of the Republic of Armenia, which exercises legislative power. The National Assembly exercises control over the executive power, it adopts the state budget and performs other duties defined by the Constitution. The transition from semi-presidential to the parliamentary form of government presupposed a new logic of activity and approaches in the state system.

The formation of the National Assembly is based on the principle of a stable parliamentary majority, which is guaranteed by the Electoral Code. Redistribution of additional minority and majority seats ensures that one party or bloc of parties in the National Assembly has at least 54% of the total number of seats, thus ensuring a presence of a stable majority.

At the same time, the Electoral Code stipulates that the total number of seats of other parties may not be less than one-third of the total number of seats in the National Assembly, thus creating preconditions for the existence of parliamentary opposition.

Along with many other changes in the public administration system, the Constitution also increased the scope of control functions of the National Assembly.

 

The Oversight Powers

The National Assembly, as a body endowed with a primary mandate by the citizens, forms a Government and exercises constant control over the executive body. The role of the National Assembly to exercise parliamentary control over the executive power is directly defined in Article 88 of the Constitution.

The aspects of the exercise of parliamentary control are mostly regulated by the constitutional Law “Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly”. The most important condition for the relationship between the Parliament and the Government is the philosophy of values and approaches that intend to avoid both polarization and fusion of the parties.

The parliamentary form of governance and effective implementation of parliamentary control over the executive power balance is heavily dependent on the parliamentary opposition. The constitutional reform of 2015 significantly expanded the oversight powers of the parliamentary minority. Some tools of parliamentary control are by their very nature intended to empower the minor players.

However, no matter how these numbers are fixed, and the distribution of executive and legislative powers allows the country to be governed by the parliamentary model, in practice, there are challenges, which are conditioned by the social-political peculiarities of the given country.

One of the biggest challenges of the parliamentary model in the Republic of Armenia was the Electoral Code itself, which had finally transformed the electoral system to a fully-proportional one on March 24th, 2021. Tools and procedures are already being introduced aimed at implementing the whole logic of the parliamentary system as effectively as possible and creating a competitive political environment.

 

The Government

The oversight functions of the National Assembly extend to both the election of the incumbent and the performance of their duties. One of the key procedures that the National Assembly is responsible for is the nomination of the head of the Government.

This process is regulated by Article 149 of the Constitution, according to which the President of the Republic immediately after the beginning of the term of office of the newly elected National Assembly appoints the candidate nominated by the parliamentary majority as Prime Minister.

If the Prime Minister is not elected, a new election of the Prime Minister shall be held seven days after the voting, in which the candidates nominated by at least one-third of the total number of Deputies have the right to participate. If the Prime Minister is not elected by the majority of votes of the total number of deputies, the National Assembly is dissolved by force of law.

The powers of the National Assembly in the formation of the Government are not limited to the election of the Prime Minister. Within twenty days after the formation of the Government, the Prime Minister is obliged to submit the Government Program to the National Assembly, which approves or rejects the Program within seven days by a majority vote of the total number of Deputies.

If the National Assembly does not approve the Government Program and does not elect a new Prime Minister, the National Assembly shall be dissolved by force of law. If the National Assembly elects the Prime Minister but again does not approve the Government Program, the National Assembly is dissolved by force of law.

 

Other Control Mechanisms

The aforementioned might be the most familiar responsibilities of the National Assembly, but the control mechanisms extend to many other areas methods of implementation, which are fixed and represent a specific set of tools. Those can be divided into several groups or causes.

Field-specific standing and temporary committees: those are the committees on Defense and Security, European Integration, Protection of Human Rights and Public Affairs, Foreign Relations, and others, 18 at the moment of writing this article.

Oral and written questions of the deputies, inquiries that, depending on the outcome, may lead to the expediency of individual members of the Government or a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister.

Parliamentary hearings, which are often defined as information gathering and spreading mechanisms used by parliamentary committees as a way for analyzing and designing policies and for oversight and scrutiny purposes. Parliamentary hearings benefit awareness, legitimacy, alternative knowledge, empowerment, trust, conflict resolution.

Annual reports are directly submitted to the National Assembly by the Human Rights Defender, the Central Electoral Committee, the Audit Chamber, the Television and Radio Committee, and the Central Bank.

 

The State Budget

To carry out its oversight functions, the National Assembly also establishes independent bodies outside the Government's control, such as the Human Rights Defender, the Audit Chamber, the Television and Radio Committee, the Central Electoral Committee, and the Central Bank.

These bodies provide an opportunity to identify and effectively control the activities of the executive branch by submitting an annual report on their activities to the National Assembly.

The most comprehensive of these cases is the adoption of the state budget in terms of its control over the departments and the control over its implementation. The adoption of the state budget and further control over its implementation is aimed at the overall control over the efficiency of the executive power. The control over the implementation of the Government Program, the annual reports of the state bodies are also directed to the general control.

The National Assembly adopts the state budget upon the presentation of the Government. The state budget includes all state revenues and expenditures following the law. The Government submits the draft state budget to the National Assembly at least ninety days before the beginning of the budget year.

Upon the conclusion of the Audit Chamber, it discusses and decides on the annual report on the implementation of the state budget submitted by the Government.

The National Assembly exercises control over the implementation of the state budget, as well as the use of loans and credits received from foreign countries and international organizations. The next and most important mediums are the Inquiry Committees.

 

The Inquiry Committees

The institute of inquiry committees was first introduced to the Republic of Armenia in 2015, in Article 108 of the Constitution, which elaborates in detail the procedure for the establishment and activity of these committees. Issues of public importance and state importance become the subject of the working discussion of these committees. The inquiry committees are important tools of the parliamentary minority, as the number of votes of the constitutional majority is not required for the formation of one.

At the request of at least a quarter of the total number of Deputies, an Inquiry Committee shall be established by law to find out the facts concerning the issues within the competence of the National Assembly and public interest.
The seats in the inquiry committee are distributed in proportion to the number of deputies included in the factions. The number of members of the inquiry committee is decided by the National Assembly. The inquiry committee is chaired by one of the deputies submitting the claim.

At the request of at least a quarter of the members of the inquiry committee, state and local self-governance bodies and officials are obliged to provide the committee with the necessary information in the area of competence of the committee, if its provision is not prohibited by law.
The powers of the inquiry committee in the field of defense and security may be exercised only by the competent Standing Committee of the National Assembly at the request of at least one-third of the total number of Deputies.

 

International Relationships

Having inter-parliamentary friendship groups – at the same time not limiting its functions only to that, the National Assembly has the right to coordinate, ratify and reverse international treaties.

This might not be the complete guide to the functions of the National Assembly, meanwhile, this should give the reader a better view of the role of the National Assembly, the parliamentary system, and its powers overall.
The National Assembly applies its powers due to the continuity and wide toolkit that has been provided by the Constitution to achieve constant accountability to the citizens of the Republic of Armenia.