By Armen Zakarian
The president of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), Rene van der Linden, appealed to Armenia’s government and opposition to reach a mutually acceptable agreement on amending the Armenian constitution.
Ending a two-day visit to Yerevan, van der Linden warned that failure to enact a package of amendments to the Armenian constitution, approved by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, at an upcoming referendum would stall the country’s European integration. “This is not a question of party politics,” he told a news conference after talks with President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders.
The warning appeared primarily addressed to Armenia’s leading opposition group, the Artarutyun bloc, that decided on Thursday to reject the constitutional draft which Kocharian and his governing coalition want to put to a national referendum this November. Artarutyun leaders said the authorities have refused to accept any of the opposition conditions for endorsing their revised draft amendments.
Van der Linden argued that some proposals made by both the Venice Commission and the Armenian opposition have already bee incorporated into those amendments. But he indicated that Kocharian and his allies should be ready for more concessions.
“It is now very important that leading political groups sit together and make further improvements in the draft,” the Dutch parliamentarian said. “It is very important that support for constitutional reform comes from all political parties, whether or not they are represented in government. All of them have great responsibility for Armenia and its citizens.”
Artarutyun has made its support for the reform conditional on three specific amendments that would give more powers to parliament, make Armenian courts less dependent on the president of the republic and provide for direct elections of Yerevan’s future mayors. Kocharian and the three parties represented in his government have so far refused to meet any of those demands. The other major opposition force, the National Unity Party (AMK), also looks set to urge supporters to reject the proposed constitutional changes.
The AMK and Artarutyun leaders say that Armenia’s existing constitution and other laws already provide for free elections and human rights and that they have repeatedly been violated by the ruling regime. They reportedly hope that a collapse of the November referendum would mobilize greater public support for their next attempt to unseat Kocharian.
According to van der Linden, such an outcome would amount to Armenia’s failure to meet some of its key membership commitments to the Council of Europe and hamper its efforts to forge closer links with the European Union. “Reform of the constitution is a precondition for the fulfillment of very important commitments and obligations accepted by all political parties in your parliament,” he said. “If this reform process fails, it will lead to very serious discussions and consequences in the Parliamentary Assembly.”
“I hope that the citizens of this country will take into account the huge importance of constitutional reform for the future of this country,” the PACE president added.
(Council of Europe photo)