By Ruzanna Khachatrian
President Robert Kocharian has watered down his draft amendments to Armenia’s constitution that would curtail some of his sweeping powers, it emerged on Friday.
In the initial version of his proposed constitutional reform unveiled last year, Kocharian suggested that Armenia’s prime minister be appointed by the parliament after being nominated by the president. Under the current Armenian constitution, the prime minister is appointed and can be dismissed by the head of state.
A package of amendments submitted by Kocharian’s administration to the National Assembly has undergone some changes which would keep the existing mechanisms for the formation of Armenian governments effectively intact. According to them, Armenian premiers and their cabinets would continue to be named by the president. The latter would have to sack them and form a new government if the National Assembly refuses to endorse their plan of action.
The current constitution, enacted in 1995 under then President Levon Ter-Petrosian, already enables the legislature to unseat the executive with a vote of no confidence. The basic law has been widely criticized for vesting the bulk of executive authority in the office of president. The head of state can dissolve the parliament practically at will and appoint and sack virtually all judges. Critics say the constitution fails to put in place a system of checks and balances.
In another change of heart, Kocharian has decided not to seek any changes in the existing order whereby the structure of Armenia’s government is defined by presidential decrees. Under his original proposals, that would have become the parliament’s prerogative.
The latest changes weaken the proposed curbs on presidential authority. Kocharian’s original constitutional amendments had already been dismissed as cosmetic by the Armenian opposition.
The new constitutional package will be debated by the parliament next week. Kocharian needs its approval to press ahead with plans to put the draft amendments on a nationwide referendum in May.