By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Six opposition parties campaigning for sweeping constitutional changes in Armenia formalized on Wednesday their united front against President Robert Kocharian who remains vehemently opposed to their agenda.
The parties announced the start of a joint “constitutional movement” aimed at forcing the authorities to put their alternative draft constitution on a referendum alongside amendments put forward by Kocharian. The Armenian leader has ruled out such an option.
Leaders of the diverse opposition coalition, which includes the center-right National Democratic Union (AZhM), the Communist and Hanrapetutyun (Republic) parties, said they are launching a campaign of nationwide rallies and other activities designed to rally public support for their vision of constitutional reform.
The opposition wants to transform Armenia into a parliamentary republic, arguing that the existing government system gives the president sweeping powers but allows him to avoid responsibility for the state of affairs. Kocharian’s amendments would curtail some presidential powers but preserve the existing order.
“We will use all legitimate means to force the National Assembly to put both constitutional bills on a referendum,” Hanrapetutyun leader Albert Bazeyan told an indoors gathering of some 300 opposition activists.
“We are determined to fight for a referendum on our joint initiative,” said Communist leader Sanatruk Sahakian. “The president can put his variant on a parallel vote, if he wants.”
The six-member grouping, which also comprises the smaller Union for Constitutional Rights and the National Democratic and Democratic parties, lacks parliament seats to push its bill through the National Assembly. The parliament is likely to take Kocharian’s side in the unfolding constitutional battle.
Under Armenian law no issue can be put on a referendum without its approval by the 131-member legislature.