By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Vazgen Manukian, leader of the opposition National Democratic Union (AZhM), said on Tuesday that plans to amend Armenia’s constitution should be put on hold because none of the proposals currently in circulation is likely to win sufficient votes at a referendum.
Manukian claimed that President Robert Kocharian can not enact his draft amendments without manipulating the vote -- something which would only discredit the idea of constitutional reform and heighten political tensions. The referendum should therefore take place “at a more favorable moment,” he added.
The AZhM is one of the six opposition parties that have put forward a bill that would turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic. They argue that the constitutional changes proposed by Kocharian would make no difference to what they see as a “super-presidential system” of government in Armenia.
Manukian said he believes that the opposition should not count on success even if its bill is put on a free and fair referendum alongside the presidential package.
Under Armenian law, the constitution can be changed only through a nationwide referendum. An amendment can take effect if the majority of referendum participants, representing no less than a third of the registered electorate, votes for it.
Kocharian has categorically rejected a simultaneous vote on the two diametrically opposite visions of constitutional reform, threatening to dissolve the parliament if it gives in to the opposition demands.
Kocharian’s tough stance was on Tuesday denounced by the AZhM leader. “That means that he overestimates the significance of the post that was given to him in one way or another,” Manukian said.
A special commission of the Armenian parliament examining various ideas of constitutional reform last week rejected the joint opposition draft. The move was predictable and in line with most observers’ belief that the National Assembly is unlikely to challenge Kocharian on the issue.