By Armen Zakarian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
President Robert Kocharian said on Tuesday that Armenia’s controversial post-Soviet constitution has proved “viable” despite needing serious amendments as the authorities marked the 10th anniversary of its adoption at a disputed referendum.
“Over the past decade our Constitution has repeatedly demonstrated its viability and showed ways of bringing the country out of even the most complicated situations,” Kocharian said in a written address to the nation dedicated to Constitution Day, a public holiday in Armenia. “The Basic Law of our country is the main guarantee of civic solidarity and the rule of law.”
The constitution jubilee was also marked by political allies of Armenia’s former President Levon Ter-Petrosian who enacted it following the July 1995 referendum. They would agree with its positive assessment by Kocharian despite being highly critical of the current Armenian government.
The constitution has been widely criticized for giving the Armenian presidents sweeping powers at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches of government. In addition, Ter-Petrosian’s opponents never recognized the legitimacy of the 1995 referendum, insisting that it was rigged by the former ruling regime. Ter-Petrosian and his party, the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), always denied the charges.
Kocharian, meanwhile, reaffirmed his commitment to reforming the basic law and honoring Armenia’s “international obligations,” apparently alluding to his administration’s pledge to accept three key constitutional amendments suggested by the Council of Europe. The amendments would seriously curb the presidential powers. They are expected to be incorporated into Kocharian’s constitutional package and put to a referendum in November.
“I believe that the normal course of constitutional amendments is crucial for the progress of our country,” said Kocharian.
However, the HHSh leaders reiterated their strong opposition to the proposed changes, saying that Kocharian has no popular mandate to reform the constitution and is looking a loophole that would enable him to seek a third term in office. “We will do everything to ensure that those constitutional changes do not pass,” the party’s chairman, Ararat Zurabian, told a news conference.
“We have an illegitimate government,” he said. “Having breached the constitution and usurped power since 1998, they are continuing a process which is dangerous for Armenian statehood.”
Zurabian also claimed that the Council of Europe is “committing a political mistake” by insisting on constitutional reform.