A Modern Parliament for a Modern Armenia: Global Partners Governance work with the National Assembly of Armenia

This blog was written by parliamentary expert and GPG Associate Alex Brazier. In it he outlines the challenges and development of our project with the National Assembly of Armenia and provides an overview of the core subjects this work is set to tackle.

This Blog describes GPG’s current project with the National Assembly of Armenia and outlines the project’s main objectives and work streams and provides some background to Armenia’s political situation.

Since late 2020, GPG has worked with the National Assembly of Armenia on a project entitled, ‘A Modern Parliament for a Modern Armenia (MAP)’The project is funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and is being undertaken by GPG Founder and Board Chair Greg Power and GPG Associates Meg MunnAileen Walker, and myself, with support from GPG staff members including Project Officer Elizabett Yashneva.

The project comes at an eventful and challenging time for Armenia and its political institutions. In recent years, the government has sought to modernise the governance system, an initiative which has generally enjoyed broad support. Priority areas for this modernisation have included: strengthened protection of human rights, development of democratic institutions including a strong and independent judiciary, more effective checks and balances between three branches of power and an efficient, transparent and accountable legislative body.

But by autumn 2020 Armenia had entered into renewed hostilities with neighbouring Azerbaijan over the disputed province of Nagorno-Karabakh. A Russia-brokered truce ended six weeks of fighting in November 2020, with Armenia ceding control over several territories. The military defeat prompted a political crisis in Armenia.

In March 2021 several military generals and protesters demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan over his handling of the conflict, which led to accusations of a coup attempt by the military,

Subsequently, on March 18 the Prime Minister announced that snap parliamentary elections would be held in June, with the aim to reach a peaceful resolution of the current political crisis. And additionally, the country has had the Covid-19 pandemic to contend with.

Against this background, GPG commenced the project to support parliamentary development and effectiveness and work with the Armenian National Assembly to deliver innovative techniques and strategies to achieve that. A number of core subjects had been identified and GPG worked with MPs and officials in the Armenian parliament to determine their main priorities, which include:

Representation. Our work is based on the recognition that representation is one of the three core functions of an MP, alongside legislating and oversight of government. The main outcome so far has been the development of a guide for MPs on how to fulfil the duty of representation with a specific focus on constituencies. It recognises that for those MPs elected on lists the approach to representation will be different than for MPs representing a geographical constituency. The guide was developed after discussion with a small number of MPs on their approach to constituency work.

The guide covers the principles of representation and how contact with constituents informs the work of MPs in taking up individual concerns and in identifying systemic issues that affect constituents. Advice is provided on recording information about constituency contacts and how to organise a presence in the constituency as well as advice on different methods of communicating with constituents. Finally, the guide suggests ways in which constituency work can be taken into oversight and legislative work in parliament through questions, debates and committees.

Parliamentary Branding and Outreach: Another aspect of the project involves parliamentary branding and marketing, engaging civil society, and undertaking parliamentary outreach. Following discussions with relevant organisations and individuals, a branding agency has been appointed to develop a new visual identity for the National Assembly. Also, GPG has worked with a team refreshing the parliamentary website and been involved in developing the new parliamentary Information and Outreach Centre and a civil society organisation that works with young people and women.

A picture has emerged of how the National Assembly is currently perceived by its citizens. In common with parliaments across the world, there is some confusion around the role of the National Assembly, what MPs are there for, and how to engage with the political process. A workshop with a small group of MPs provided further crucial insight into how the National Assembly wished itself to be perceived, which fed into the creation of a strategic communications vision and a “Strategy on a Page” for the National Assembly.

A Citizen Engagement and Outreach Strategy Handbook has been produced encapsulating principles and best practice, describing communication methods and engagement strategies.

Financial Oversight: One specific area of work has focussed on financial oversight, with the overall objective to spread good practice and interest in financial scrutiny across the Armenian National Assembly. Following discussion with MPs, a number of priorities were identified.

One central objective is to ensure that financial oversight should become a core function for the National Assembly as a whole and should not be solely the responsibility of a small number of specialist committees with designated financial or economic remits. The challenge therefore is to encourage subject-based committees to undertake revenue and expenditure oversight within their remit, for example, on health, education or infrastructure.

Other areas of work include ensuring that the National Assembly makes the most of the work and evidence of Armenia’s Supreme Audit Institution, looking at how committees can adopt best practice methods in undertaking financial scrutiny and promoting effective oversight of Sustainable Development Goals. To date, the main output is the production of a Handbook which provides guidance for MPs and committees and contains comparative models of effective financial oversight.

Code of Ethics: Another aspect of GPG’s work involves supporting the National Assembly on the production of a handbook on the Code of Ethics. It is intended to be a practical guide for parliament to use in establishing the purpose and content of the Code, covering strategic and political aspects required for its design and implementation.

The handbook therefore examines the political strategy for developing the code, explores the basic principles on which to develop its content and scope.  and discusses models for regulation and enforcement. It envisages that the Code of Ethics should be reviewed regularly in the light of changes to the social and political environment. It should also have a degree of flexibility, ensuring that some provisions could be amended over time.

Together, these different aspects of GPG’s work form part of parliamentary development in Armenia, and we look forward to continuing our support following the June election. One notable aspect has been that the entire project has so far been conducted virtually, based around on-line meetings.  Hopefully, when the pandemic is finally over, GPG may be able to visit Armenia and actually meet in person the many MPs and officials who we are currently working with.

Alex Brazier
Global Partners Governance