By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian opposition’s chances of giving voters an alternative to President Robert Kocharian’s constitutional amendments appeared on Monday slim as week-long parliament debates on its more radical proposals drew to a close.
Most parliament factions reaffirmed their negative attitude to a draft constitution put forward by six opposition parties, saying that only Kocharian’s amendment package should be put on a referendum expected this year. The factions hold more than 80 seats in the 131-member National Assembly, enough to kill any opposition initiative.
The pro-presidential camp comprises the biggest Miasnutyun faction, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Orinats Yerkir parties as well as two groups of independent deputies. Two opposition factions, Right and Accord and Hayastan, are split over the issue. At least half of their members are likely to side with Kocharian because they are against Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic, the hallmark of the opposition constitution.
The debates revealed that only some two dozen lawmakers are bound to vote for including the alternative draft in the referendum ballots.
Under an informal agreement reached by the two sides earlier, the debates were to be followed by similar discussions on Kocharian’s amendment package which would preserve the existing system of government while curtailing some of the president’s sweeping powers. The agreement also envisaged simultaneous votes on both constitutional motions.
However, it remained unclear when the debate on the presidential proposals will get underway. Under Armenian law, if the parliament approves them, Kocharian will have to call the referendum within the next two months. The president has so far sent ambiguous signals about when he wants the vote to take place.
The six opposition parties need the parliament’s approval to put their draft on the referendum along with the constitutional changes favored by Kocharian. They on Monday asked speaker Armen Khachatrian to postpone the parliament vote on their initiative for 15 days, still hoping for a last-minute change of opinion among the majority of deputies.
But there was little sign that the latter have reconsidered their stance as a result of the debates. Miasnutyun leaders and other pro-presidential lawmakers reiterated their strong opposition to the transition to the parliamentary republic. Armen Rustamian of Dashnaktsutyun, for his part, cited Kocharian’s argument that the majority of Armenians will not back the presidential package if they are given an alternative option.
“This variant would jeopardize any [constitutional] change and, in essence, reaffirm the existing constitution,” Rustamian said.