By Nane Atshemian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Council of Europe believes that sweeping constitutional amendments promised by the Armenian authorities are vital for Armenia’s democratization and expects their approval at a referendum later this year, a senior official from Strasbourg said on Tuesday.
“I proceed from the assumption that the referendum will be positive, and that is what we base our expectations and our further policy on,” Ambassador Roland Wegener, a German diplomat representing the Council’s governing Committee of Ministers, said at the end of a fact-finding visit to Yerevan.
Wegener said President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders assured him that they will honor their pledge to accept the key Council of Europe recommendations on the ongoing constitutional reform.
Those amendments would considerably curtail President Robert Kocharian’s sweeping powers to appoint and sack the government as well as judges at will. They would also make the mayor of Yerevan, home of at least one third of Armenia’s population, an elected official.
Under a memorandum signed with the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission in Strasbourg on Friday, the Kocharian administration has to incorporate those changes into its constitutional draft. The draft is due to be debated and finally approved by parliament in August before being put to a referendum this fall.
“These are very good solutions which improve the constitution,” Wegener told a news conference in Yerevan. “This campaign will be decisive for the future,” he added.
The Armenian authorities for months dragged their feet over their adoption, prompting strong criticism from the Venice Commission and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Leaders of Armenia’s three-party ruling coalition told RFE/RL on Tuesday that the authorities will embrace all of those amendments.
“The president of the republic expressed his full support for the agreement [with the Venice Commission],” said deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian.
Asked why Yerevan did not accept the recommendations earlier, Torosian said, “There were serious legal and political problems that had to be resolved during the whole process. It’s the results that matter the most.”
Another coalition leader, Armen Rustamian, denied that the authorities did so for fear of Council of Europe sanctions. “The Council of Europe demands have been acceptable to us ever since 2001,” he said.
Those demands have also been backed by the Armenian opposition. Wegener argued that the Strasbourg agreement could therefore ease persisting political tensions in the country.
“We can state now that the parties of the majority as well as the opposition parties in the parliament agree and that the new draft will find the support of a big majority in parliament,” Wegener said. “And if the parliament then agrees on that broad basis, this will turn a page in the democratic history of this country.”
However, it is still not clear if the opposition will end its long-running boycott of parliament sessions and campaign for the passage of Kocharian’s revised constitutional package. Some of its leaders have already spoken out against the idea.
(Photolur photo: Wegener greeted by Kocharian.)