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By Karine Kalantarian

A senior member of the Armenian parliament criticized on Saturday President Robert Kocharian’s proposed constitutional reform, saying that a draft basic law written by his party should be put on a referendum together with the presidential draft amendments. Shavarsh Kocharian (no relation to the president), chairman of the parliament committee on science and education, reiterated his belief that Armenia should become a parliamentary republic with a stronger legislature and government but a largely ceremonial presidency.

A package of constitutional amendments suggested by a special presidential commission was submitted to the parliamentary factions last month, and is due to be debated by the National Assembly this fall. Under those amendments, the head of state would lose some of his substantial powers but would still remain the most powerful figure in the country’s leadership.

Also in circulation are two alternative draft constitutions put forward by the Armenian Communists and the National Democratic Party (AZhK) led by Shavarsh Kocharian. Speaking at a public discussion in Yerevan, Kocharian argued that the existing presidential system of government is conducive to “dictatorship” and must be scrapped. He also claimed that the current constitution was enacted after a “rigged” 1995 referendum and would remain illegitimate even after being amended.

“It was a slap in the people’s face,” he said of the 1995 referendum. “They said ‘No’ to that constitution, and yet it went into effect. Making changes in the existing basic law is also tantamount to endorsing the fraud.”

Armenians must therefore be given a choice when they go to polls to decide on the constitutional reform, Kocharian added. The AZhK proposes a three-year period for the transition to the parliamentary system. However, the small opposition party, which split from the National Democratic Union (AZhM) earlier this year, appears unlikely to attract strong support in the parliament increasingly loyal to President Kocharian.

Kocharian needs the parliament’s approval of his amendments for calling a nationwide referendum next spring.

The presidential packaged was brushed aside as “dangerous” and “contradictory” by another AZhK leader, Vartan Poghosian. “This is a very vague half-step which may actually broaden possibilities for authoritarian rule,” he said.
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