Sunday, 12 July 2020

E Editorial

In Advance of the Referendum: The Imperative of Forming a Political Agenda

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Armenia enters a dramatic period with President Armen Sarkissian’s February 9 order to hold on April 5 a referendum on constitutional amendments. Any endeavor of a national scale, and especially a referendum, is a challenge in public life which can carry with it turbulence and many questions whose answers the public does not have.

What main purpose does the referendum pursue, what subsequent course of the “revolution” can a change in the composition of Constitutional Court membership possibly affect, how appropriate is the people’s inclusion in the solution of such an intrapolitical agenda item, particularly against the backdrop of deepening contradictions within society?  Is this a show of trust in the people, or an imprudent measure to place the onus of responsibility upon its shoulders?

The body politic does not have the answers to this and other similar questions.  The parliamentary majority “My Step” MPs’ speeches also do not provide any clues.  In the special session of the National Assembly on February 6, the ruling team's representatives turned to emotional references to “the former guilty regime” and the need to establish “the people’s power” but did not express any clear conceptual, programmatic, or even political argument or basis.

Let us leave our referendum for a bit and see in general who decides, and in what manner, the priority of the issues facing the country, their listing and sequence, as well as the mechanisms for forming the agenda, the forms and characteristics of political debates and discussions, in other words the matter of political technologies.  Here, too, the unanswered questions are many.

In fact, our principal task is the procedural formulation of political agendas and their substantive cultivation, without which there can be no political life or national progress.

In the United States, for example, the formulation of the country’s agenda as far back as the 1960s had become a matter of serious political-science study, and they had begun to look at the mechanisms for setting a given agenda and society’s level of awareness of public-political processes.  Upon the setting of agendas, according to certain studies, significant influence is brought to bear by state institutions and by the existence of a culture of debate between political actors and civil society.

Without mechanisms for formulating a political agenda and a culture of listening to one another, of organizing discussions, we will often find ourselves in a predicament, as now, when an important matter is brought to the public’s consciousness only after it has been given the status of referendum by the parliament and president.  This should have been done earlier, so that people would have been duly and fully informed and oriented as to why this measure is being initiated, what it stands for at bottom, and what it solves in reality.

All of this has to be clarified comprehensively, if of course anyone, including the sponsors of the referendum, can explain in simple language its meaning and worth.

The Armenian Center for National and International Studies

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Yerevan, Armenia


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