By Ruzanna Khachatrian
President Robert Kocharian admitted on Wednesday that his constitutional amendment package will not be backed by the majority of voters if it is put to a referendum along with the more radical proposals made by the Armenian opposition.
Kocharian also implied that a defeat of his version of the long-awaited constitutional reform would damage his reelection chances in next year’s presidential elections.
Six opposition parties, which favor Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic, are demanding that voters be given a choice when they go to polls this, or possibly next, year. Last month they announced the start of a joint “constitutional movement” aimed at forcing Kocharian to put their alternative draft constitution on the planned referendum.
But the Armenian president, who is strongly opposed to significant curbs on his powers, again scoffed at such option, saying that it would necessitate a nationwide vote on the existing constitution as well. Meeting with the faculty of Yerevan State University, he said: “It’s obvious that if we put all three bills on the referendum none of them will get passed and we will simply fail.”
Under Armenian law, an amendment to the basic law can take effect only if it is endorsed by the majority of referendum participants representing no less than one third of the registered electorate. Some opposition leaders claim that Kocharian can not secure that number without vote manipulation even if he succeeds in keeping all alternative proposals off the ballots.
Kocharian indicated on Wednesday that a failure of his constitutional initiative could weaken his positions in the run-up to the 2003 presidential vote. “Imagine what will happen if the variant put forward by the president is put to a referendum and is not passed during the pre-election period,” he told some 150 university professors and lecturers.
Kocharian, who had hoped to call the referendum this spring, also announced that it will take place no sooner than next autumn. It will be combined with either the October local elections or the parliamentary or presidential elections of 2003, he added.
The effective rescheduling of the constitutional vote comes after longer-than-expected debates in the parliament. An ad hoc parliamentary commission on constitutional reform has already endorsed Kocharian’s draft amendments but has had to cope with strong opposition pressure. The matter has yet to go the parliament floor where opposition lawmakers hope to put up stiff resistance.