By Karine Kalantarian
Failure to enact President Robert Kocharian’s package of constitutional amendments would ruin Armenia’s European integration, a leader of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) warned on Thursday.
Armen Rustamian claimed that a possible rejection of those amendments at a referendum due in November would lead the Council of Europe and the European Union to conclude that Armenians are unwilling to embrace “European values.” That would leave the country in a “not only unpleasant but ridiculous situation,” he said.
“First of all, that would mean the country’s failure,” Rustamian told a news conference. “It wouldn’t matter at all who is to blame for that, the government or the opposition. For they [the Europeans] believe that if this document is not adopted, Armenia won’t able to carry on with its reform program. That will be ridiculous to those organizations.”
Rustamian also argued that Armenia’s controversial post-Soviet constitution, widely criticized for giving disproportionate powers to the president of the republic, is a serious obstacle to its democratization. Dashnaktsutyun, which has co-authored the proposed changes along with two other parties represented in government, had opposed the constitution’s enactment in 1995 when it was in opposition to the then Armenian leadership.
The Council of Europe, the EU as well as the United States similarly link constitutional reform to the democratization of Armenia’s political system. They say Kocharian’s constitutional draft does provide for a more effective system of checks and balances.
But the Armenian opposition insists that the amendments would not significantly curtail the sweeping presidential powers. Opposition leaders also believe that far important is the enforcement of the existing laws that provide for free elections and human rights. They have pledged to join forces to scuttle the passage of the proposed constitutional changes. The opposition views the referendum also as an opportunity to make another attempt to topple the ruling regime.
Rustamian, who heads the foreign relations committee of the Armenian parliament, deplored the opposition stance, saying success of the referendum is necessary for the entire country and not just its leadership. Kocharian made a similar point last month.
Opinion polls suggest that winning sufficient popular backing for the amendments will be an uphill task for the Kocharian administration. But Rustamian said he believes the authorities can convinced a majority of Armenians to vote for them, indicating that Dashnaktsutyun has already drawn up a relevant plan of action. He declined to unveil it now.
“When campaigning gets underway Dashnaktsutyun will come up its comprehensive and clear opinion on what it expects from that constitution, what its approaches and tactic are,” said Rustamian.