By Ruzanna Khachatrian
An ad hoc commission formed by the Armenian parliament to discuss proposed ways of constitutional reform held its first meeting on Monday with heated debates on the format of its four-month work. The multi-party body is to pass judgement on constitutional amendments drafted by President Robert Kocharian and two draft basic laws proposed by opposition lawmakers.
Members of the commission represent all factions and groups in the National Assembly. Most of them are thought to be loyal to Kocharian and, therefore, likely to endorse his package of amendments.
Commission chairman Tigran Torosian, left, and vice-chairman Hrant Khachatrian.
This belief was further reinforced after the panel voted to elect Tigran Torosian, the deputy speaker of the parliament, as its chairman. A parliament deputy from the opposition Right and Accord bloc, Hrant Khachatrian, was elected vice-chairman.
A senior member of the governing Republican Party (HHK), Torosian was involved in the work of a presidential commission on constitutional reform. The commission’s proposals, submitted to the parliament this summer, call for the reduction of sweeping powers vested in the presidency by the existing post-Soviet constitution. They have been largely approved by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which monitors Armenia’s progress towards fulfilment of obligations stemming from its membership of the prestigious organization.
However, opposition groups say Kocharian’s amendments are not far-reaching enough and advocate Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic. The two alternative bills submitted by the chairman of the parliament committee on science and education, Shavarsh Kocharian, and the Armenian Communist Party are based on that idea.
Under Armenian law, President Kocharian needs the parliament’s approval to put his constitutional amendments on a nationwide referendum. He has indicated that he wants the vote to take place next spring.