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By Armen Zakarian
President Robert Kocharian and his top political allies have not yet agreed on the final version of their proposed constitutional reform despite formally publicizing a package of revised draft amendments last month, it emerged on Friday.

Kocharian discussed the issue at a meeting with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and other leaders of the three parties represented in his coalition government. The meeting was also attended by Armen Harutiunian, his chief constitutional lawyer. The presidential press service did not report any details.

“Discussions are still going on,” Harutiunian told reporters later in the day. “We still don’t know how the process will unfold. The issue still needs discussions.”

Harutiunian refused to specify what Kocharian and the coalition parties making up the parliament majority have yet to sort out. A leader of one of those parties, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), indicated earlier this week that at issue are new mechanisms for the formation of government.

Under the existing post-Soviet constitution, Armenia’s prime minister and his cabinet are appointed by the president of the republic but can be dismissed by the National Assembly with a vote of no confidence. The draft amendments circulated by the parliament majority last month would allow the legislature to endorse or reject a prime minister nominated by the president. However, the latter would be empowered to dissolve it his candidacies are rejected by lawmakers for three consecutive times.

The Armenian opposition points to this provision to back up its claims that Kocharian, who already enjoys sweeping powers, would only gain more authority as a result of the proposed constitutional reform. The opposition also maintains that Kocharian lacks the legitimacy to initiate constitutional changes.

Harutiunian dismissed such arguments, insisting that the head of state would have less control over the executive and judicial branches.

Kocharian’s first attempt to amend the constitution at a referendum in May 2003 failed to win sufficient popular support. He has since modified those draft amendments together with the coalition allies and hopes that they will be approved at another referendum due next year.

Another unanswered question is whether he will try to abolish a constitutional provision that prevents him from seeking a third term in office in 2008. The publicized version of the constitutional package carries no corresponding changes in the basic law. Still, Harutiunian was more vague on the subject.

(Photolur photo: Kocharian and coalition leaders meeting on Friday.)
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