By Nane Atshemian
The chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court, Gagik Harutiunian, on Tuesday spoke out in favor of a package of draft constitutional amendments proposed by President Robert Kocharian and his governing coalition.
Harutiunian warned that Armenians will plunge their country into a “serious constitutional crisis” if they fail to approve the changes at a referendum expected in November. He at the same time voiced reservations about some unspecified details of the proposed reform.
“I don’t want to analyze [the constitutional package] because it is still being discussed,” Harutiunian told reporters on the sidelines of a seminar in Yerevan. “It will be again discussed by the Venice Commission [of the Council of Europe] by the end of October. If there are serious omissions I, as a member of the Commission, will speak about them there.”
“I would say that more work still needs to be done in terms of guaranteeing the systemic integrity of the draft,” he said without elaborating.
Harutiunian has criticized in the past one of the provisions of the existing post-Soviet constitution whereby only the president of the republic, presidential candidates and one third of parliament members can ask the Constitutional Court to overturn laws or decisions which they believe are unconstitutional. He said ordinary Armenians too should have the right to appeal to the country’s highest court. Kocharian’s constitutional package would empower citizens to do so in certain cases.
Venice Commission experts dealing with Armenia’s constitutional reform have already concluded that the proposed amendments “would constitute a good basis for ensuring the compliance of the Armenian Constitution with the European standards.” They have urged the Armenian opposition to help the authorities secure their passage at the referendum.
However, the country’s main opposition alliance, Artarutyun, has made its support for the reform conditional on further changes limiting the sweeping presidential powers and strengthening judicial independence.
One of the authors of the reform, deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, has warned that Artarutyun will commit “political suicide” if it decides to campaign for a “no” vote at the referendum. Torosian went as far as to claim on Tuesday that the existing constitution is the main reason why Armenia is not considered for future membership in the European Union.