By Hrach Melkumian
An ad hoc commission of the parliament assessing ways of amending Armenia’s constitution expressed on Thursday its negative attitude towards a draft basic law put forward by several opposition parties.
In a move seen as endorsing President Robert Kocharian’s version of constitutional reform, seven of the twelve members of the commission voted against the opposition draft that would transform Armenia into a parliamentary republic.
Kocharian’s amendments would somewhat curtail sweeping powers vested in the office of president by the 1995 constitution and maintain the existing system of government. The president needs the National Assembly’s approval to call a nationwide constitutional referendum.
Five opposition parties that drew up the alternative bill want it to be put on a referendum alongside Kocharian’s proposals. The Armenian president is strongly opposed to that option and has implicitly threatened to dissolve the parliament if it accepts the opposition demands.
The current legislature is largely supportive of the head of state and, therefore, expected to fall in line. Thursday’s decision taken by the parliamentary commission makes such an outcome all the more likely.
One of the authors of the opposition constitution, Shavarsh Kocharian, said: “Those deputies that had decided in advance to vote against our bill will now have a serious argument to persuade others.”
“Unless we engage the public in this process and try to offset pressure from the president, we will not succeed,” he added. “We must work in that direction.”
The parliamentary commission is likely to finish its work early next. The issue will go to the parliament floor shortly afterwards.