By Karine Kalantarian
President Robert Kocharian sought on Thursday to downplay his personal interest in the success of his constitutional reform, saying that the failure of this month’s referendum would not threaten the Armenian leadership's grip on power.
Kocharian indicated that the Armenian opposition stands no chance of successfully exploiting the issue for its efforts at regime change as he urged hundreds of students at Yerevan State University to vote for his constitutional changes.
“I can say for sure that the world would not crumble [as a result],” he told them, referring to a possible “no” vote at the November 27 referendum. “And I, as a president, will live with both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ [votes].”
“Nothing will happen if the referendum fails. Life would continue with the existing constitution,” he added.
But Kocharian warned a the same time that the failure of his second attempt to amend Armenia’s controversial post-Soviet constitution would slow its transition to democracy and economic development. The existing constitution, he said, is “obsolete” as its vests disproportionate powers in the presidency.
“When my sons read our constitutional draft, one of them asked, ‘Dad, do you really need this?’ My response was this, ‘I personally don’t need it, but you, my son, do, and I’m doing this for you,’” he said.
Kocharian’s political opponents, who are campaigning against the amendments, insist that they envisage only symbolic curbs on the presidential powers and are aimed at “prolonging the regime’s life.” They hope to use the referendum for another attempt to force him into resignation.
Some oppositionists, notably allies of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian who enacted the basic law in 1995, also claim that Kocharian wants to amend the Armenian constitution and get a legal loophole for staying in power for a third five-year term. One of the students asked Kocharian whether he indeed is reluctant to step down or intends to hold another senior government post after completing his second term in 2008.
The Armenian leader’s response to the query was rather ambiguous. “As for my future, who is better than I in terms of knowledge, experience, hard work and resilience?” he said. “When the time comes, we will think about what steps to take in the future.”