By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian parliament on Tuesday postponed indefinitely a debate on a new draft constitution proposed by the opposition after several hours of bitter wrangling over procedural issues.
Opposition factions seeking to turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic pushed for special rules that would allow them to prolong discussions of the bill and have them broadcast on state television and radio.
But leaders of the pro-government majority insisted on a shorter time frame within which most bills are debated in the Armenian legislature. Under that procedure, the opposition would have only 20 minutes for presenting its constitutional initiative. Its main author, Shavarsh Kocharian, said a brief debate on the issue would be a "farce" and withdrew the bill.
Speaker Armen Khachatrian and his two deputies argued that the opposition can not be granted the "special procedure," envisaged by the parliament statutes, without the approval of the parliamentary commission on constitutional reform. But opposition lawmakers countered that the commission exists on an ad hoc basis and should not be equated to a standing parliamentary committee.
The deadlock added to uncertainty over the date of the referendum on constitutional amendments which was originally due to take place this spring. The parliament was expected to debate the amendment package put forward by President Robert Kocharian this or next month. But no date has been set yet for the debate.
A leader of Hanrapetutyun (Republic), one of the six opposition parties that co-authored the alternative constitution, suggested that the parliament leadership has decided to postpone discussion of the presidential amendments after Kocharian said last week that the referendum will not take place earlier than next autumn.
The president has rejected the opposition proposals and insists that only his amendments be put to the nationwide vote. His stance was again condemned by the opposition coalition on Monday.