By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Opposition leader Stepan Demirchian dismissed talk of an imminent collapse of his Artarutyun (Justice) alliance on Wednesday, saying that differences among its parties on constitutional reform are not as serious as many think.
“There can always be differing approaches,” Demirchian told RFE/RL. “I think everything will be sorted out. After all, I don’t see any major disagreements.”
Artarutyun’s most radical member, the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party, is increasingly critical of its allies’ stated readiness to cooperate with the authorities in amending Armenia’s controversial constitution which is conditional on the acceptance of several opposition demands. Hanrapetutyun believes that the opposition should boycott the process in any case. Its leader, Aram Sarkisian, said on Tuesday the party will leave the bloc if it endorses President Robert Kocharian’s constitutional amendments.
“We have always been honest in our relations with our allies,” said Demirchian. “I see no grounds for them to leave the bloc. And they don’t seem to have made such statements.”
Demirchian also chided Hanrapetutyun leaders for harshly criticizing opposition figures that favor a less radical line on the ruling regime. “Having different views does not give one sufficient grounds to label others,” he said.
Most of the nine parties aligned in Artarutyun have made it clear that they will campaign for the passage of Kocharian’s constitutional package at a referendum this year if the authorities agree to further curtail the Armenian president’s sweeping powers. They also demand the punishment of government officials that committed vote rigging and human rights abuses as well as the reopening of the country’s sole television station not controlled by Kocharian.
“If they accept all our demands we will be able to congratulate our people on their complete victory,” said Demirchian.
Vazgen Manukian, another Artarutyun leader, said he doubts that the opposition demands will be accepted. “But I think it wrong to say in advance that we will reject whatever is on the table,” he told RFE/RL. “Let’s just wait and see what they propose.”
Manukian also deplored what he described as a lack of “understanding of the need for systemic changes” in Armenia among the Hanrapetutyun leaders. “For them, a change of individuals seems to be more important than a change of system,” he said.
Meanwhile, the so-called Venice Commission, a body advising the Council of Europe on legislative reform, was expected to unveil late Wednesday its written opinion about Kocharian’s revised constitutional amendments that were sent to Strasbourg on July 7. The changes in the constitutional draft are supposed to reflect an agreement reached by official Yerevan and the Venice Commission last month. Their approval by the Council of Europe would allow the Armenian authorities to claim the moral high ground in their dispute with the opposition.