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By Ruzanna Khachatrian

President Robert Kocharian disclosed on Thursday his version of constitutional reform to leaders of Armenia’s leading parties whose support will be vital for pushing the amendments through the parliament. Kocharian urged the parties and groups in the parliament to display a “constructive approach” to the issue as he handed them the full text of his proposed changes in the basic law to be debated by the National Assembly next autumn.

“Robert Kocharian suggested to the parliamentarians to meticulously examine the document,” the presidential press service said. “Stressing the need for a broad consensus with political forces, he expressed readiness to listen to and discuss all proposals regarding the draft.”

A presidential spokeswoman, Hasmik Petrosian, said Kocharian will soon name a special official in charge of ensuring better liaison with the parliamentary forces. He is setting “no time limits” for the discussions, Petrosian told RFE/RL.

The party leaders carrying thick folders containing over a thousand pages of legal texts and background information said after leaving the presidential palace that they will formulate a position by the autumn session of the parliament.

The main points of the constitutional package, drawn up by a special presidential commission, were outlined by Constitutional Court chairman Gagik Harutiunian last week. Harutiunian said the draft changes amount to a “new edition” of the constitution as they would strengthen Armenian judiciary, parliament and government by curbing sweeping presidential powers.

The current basic law, which took effect after a 1995 controversial referendum, has been widely criticized for vesting sweeping powers in the office of president at the expense of the judicial and legislative branches.

According to Harutiunian, the draft amendments envisage that the head of state will need the parliament’s consent for appointing the prime minister and government ministers and will no longer be able to veto all cabinet decisions. The president would also lose his right to dismiss the overwhelming majority of the country’s judges, he said.

Some of the parliament factions advocating Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic have already expressed skepticism about the depth of the constitutional reform, saying that Kocharian will not agree to substantially curtail his powers.

The amendments have to be approved by the majority of deputies before they can be put on a nationwide referendum which Kocharian hopes to call for next spring.
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