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By Ruzanna Khachatrian
President Robert Kocharian expressed concern on Friday about a slowdown in the ongoing preparations for a nationwide referendum on amendments to Armenia’s constitution put forward by his governing coalition.

Kocharian indicated his discontent with the pace of parliamentary discussions of his constitutional package during a meeting with senior government officials and lawmakers coordinating the fulfillment of Yerevan’s commitments to the Council of Europe.

“President Robert Kocharian attached importance to the need not to slow down the process of constitutional reform and work out a final [constitutional] draft with a high degree of mutual agreement,” the presidential press service said in a statement.

The statement appeared to refer to recent squabbles among leaders of the parliamentary majority that has delayed final parliamentary debates on the draft amendments to be put to the referendum. The delay has been accompanied by a bitter war of words between deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian and the chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs. The two men have repeatedly accused each other of incompetence through the media.

An ad hoc parliament commission headed by Torosian is still revising the initial version of Kocharian’s constitutional package which was made public last fall. According to some press reports, it is now trying to accept some of the recommendations made by the so-called Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

In an interim report released in December, the commission concluded that the proposed amendments represent "a shift in favor of the president" when compared to the initial version of constitutional reform suggested by Kocharian in 2001. "More significant amendments, especially with respect to the key issue of the balance of powers between the state organs, are necessary," said the report.

It noted in particular that the Armenian parliament would remain "subordinated" to the president and play no role in the nomination and dismissal of prime ministers. The Venice Commission also said the presidential authority to appoint and sack Yerevan mayors contradicts not only European standards, but also some provisions of the Armenian constitution.

Meeting later on Friday, Torosian’s commission decided to formally include the issue of next week’s session of the National Assembly. However, observers do not expect a debate on the parliament floor at least until the end of this month.

Constitutional reform was one of the conditions for Armenia’s admission to the Council of Europe four years ago. 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.

(Presidential press service photo)
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