By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia’s governing coalition issued on Thursday what amounted to a negative response to an opposition offer to cut a compromise deal on amending the constitution, saying that more discussions on the issue are needed.
While welcoming the opposition’s stated readiness to become involved in constitutional reform, the three parties represented in President Robert Kocharian’s cabinet stopped short of accepting three major amendments sought by the Artarutyun alliance and the National Unity Party (AMK).
In a joint statement, the Dashnaktsutyun, Orinats Yerkir and Republican parties urged the two opposition groups not to use the proposed changes as a precondition for dialogue with the authorities. They implied that Artarutyun and the AMK should end their year-long boycott of parliament sessions if they are to have a say in the reform process.
The statement came immediately after a meeting of the leaders of all parliament factions except Artarutyun which was initiated by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian. Its content appears to a have been agreed at a meeting between Kocharian and coalition leaders late on Wednesday.
Opposition leaders interpreted the coalition response as a rejection of their proposals and ruled any negotiations talks with the presidential camp. “This statement shows that the coalition has never been committed to building a democratic state,” said Artarutyun’s Shavarsh Kocharian.
“The coalition bowed to pressure from Robert Kocharian and did everything to make sure that the anticipated constitutional referendum becomes a referendum of confidence in the regime,” he added.
“This once again shows that it is the head of state who decides everything in this country,” agreed Aleksan Karapetian, the number two figure in the AMK. “Our participation [in Kocharian’s constitutional reform] would a mean an imitation of the democratic process.”
Coalition representatives, however, insisted that the authorities are genuinely interested in cooperating with the opposition. “The political forces making up the coalition do believe that the opposition’s participation in the legislative process is important,” said Mher Shahgeldian, a senior member of Orinats Yerkir.
The coalition parties had already offered Artarutyun and the AMK to work out sweeping constitutional amendments by consensus in a bid to stave off an opposition campaign of anti-Kocharian demonstrations last spring. Their latest statement confirmed that the offer is no longer on the table.
The constitutional changes demanded by the opposition would give the National Assembly parliament a greater role in the formation of the government, limit the president’s right to appoint judges and make the mayor of Yerevan an elected official. They are largely in tune with the recommendations of a Council of Europe body monitoring legislative reform in Armenia.
In a resolution adopted last year, the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly urged Yerevan to hold the constitutional referendum in June at the latest. But the authorities are reportedly considering holding the vote concurrently with local elections due in October. The opposition will almost certainly campaign against a package of constitutional amendments drafted by Kocharian and his allies.