Turkmenistan and Armenia plan constitutional changes

Two former Soviet states are planning to amend their constitutions according to media reports. Although one change is likely to be much more significant than the other.

In Armenia the headline proposal would see the voting age lowered to 16. But the raft of changes are much wider than this. The so-called ‘stable majority’ system also looks set to be scrapped.

The voting age proposal currently has three options. One would be to retain the current age of 18. A second would see a reduction to either 16 or 17 for all elections. The third would allow the Parliament to decide the age for any given election. This last seems relatively chaotic as parliamentarians might seek to gain political advantage from their choice and young voters themselves would not know where they stood until weeks before a poll was due.

The stable majority system works like this: if no party or bloc emerges from an election with more than half the seats then a second round will be held between the top two parties or blocs. The winner will get enough additional seats to take them to 54% of the total number of seats. At the same time, if a single party or bloc wins more than two thirds of the seats then additional seats are created to give the opposition parties at least one third of all seats.

The relatively ceremonial modification comes from Turkmenistan where the creation of a Senate to replace the Khalk Maslahaty (or People’s Council) will be watched most to see who becomes the Chair of the new body and therefore likely next in line should President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov die suddenly. The chances are that this role will be taken by his son Serdar.

The replacement of the Khalk Maslahaty by a Senate of 56 members might seem like a step towards better democracy. But not all of the new Senators will be elected (eight will be appointed by the President) and elections in Turkmenistan have never really been that genuine. Adding a second chamber to the existing rubber-stamp Parliament is not going to make much difference.