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By Ruzanna Stepanian
The latest version of constitutional amendments put forward by the Armenian authorities and approved by Council of Europe experts is only “partly” acceptable to the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance, one of its leaders said on Tuesday.

The statement by Shavarsh Kocharian suggest that Armenia’s largest opposition group is unlikely to support the authorities’ revised constitutional package unless it undergoes additional major changes.

Artarutyun made it clear earlier this month that its crucial endorsement of the draft at a referendum later this year is contingent on the acceptance of additional amendments that would give more powers to parliament, make the Armenian judiciary less dependent on the president and provide for direct elections of Yerevan’s mayor.

The authorities’ constitutional package, made public on Monday following its close examination by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, fails to meet the Artarutyun demands. Still, Venice Commission experts concluded that its enactment “would constitute a good basis for ensuring the compliance of the Armenian Constitution with the European standards … and would pave the way to further European integration.” They said the Armenian opposition should therefore help President Robert Kocharian and his governing coalition to win sufficient public support for the changes.

The leaders of nine parties making up Artarutyun are expected to meet on August 18 to formulate their final position on the issue. At least two of those parties have said they will campaign against the passage of the draft amendments in any case.

Shavarsh Kocharian (no relation to the president) denied that the Council of Europe verdict means the Armenia opposition will face international isolation if it fails to fall in line. “Our and their proposals are totally congruent,” he claimed. “It’s just that the Venice Commission does not give wordings, it only gives directions, while we simply gave our formulations.”

The Artarutyun demands were dismissed last week by a senior representative of the ruling coalition. “Unfortunately, the opposition is putting itself in an increasingly ridiculous position by considering itself the supreme judge and setting conditions for others,” deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian told RFE/RL.

But Kocharian countered that the authorities have already embraced a “considerable part” of opposition proposals on constitutional reform under pressure from the Council of Europe. “If they are ridiculous, why were they accepted?” he said.
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