By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Karine Kalantarian
President Robert Kocharian will not be able to seek a third five-year term in office in 2008 if he succeeds in amending Armenia’s constitution, a senior pro-government lawmaker insisted on Thursday.
Samvel Nikoyan of the governing Republican Party (HHK) was at pains to dismiss one of the opposition arguments against the enactment of constitutional amendments sought by Kocharian and endorsed by the West.
The current Armenian constitution bans the president of the republic from holding office for more than two consecutive terms. Some oppositionists, notably supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, maintain that Kocharian would declare the amended constitution a new legal document and start a fresh countdown of his tenures.
But Nikoyan brushed aside the speculation as he campaigned for the amendments in Maralik, a small town in the northwestern Shirak region. “Besides, [Kocharian] himself has repeatedly stated that he does not have such intention,” he said. “All those political forces that have backed him until now are also of the opinion that the constitution must be respected and that no president must have the right to be reelected for a third term.”
Kocharian’s spokesman Victor Soghomonian has likewise said that the Armenian leader will have “no legal grounds” to stay in power after completing his second term in 2008. “I have been assured by some pretty authoritative people that that is not a realistic prospect,” U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans told RFE/RL in September, commenting on the possibility of a third Kocharian term.
Addressing about 500 residents of Maralik who gathered in a local auditorium, Nikoyan also pointed out that success of the constitutional reform would give Armenia an important edge over arch-foe Azerbaijan which has faced strong Western criticism over its handling of the November 6 parliamentary election. “With this referendum, we have an opportunity to tell Europe that it is we, not Azerbaijan, who carry its Christian values,” he said.
Kocharian’s leading political opponents made totally different arguments as they toured the neighboring Lori region in a huge motorcade consisting of about 50 cars. The trip culminated in a rally in the region’s administrative center Vanadzor that was attended by over a thousand people. Victor Dallakian, an outspoken opposition lawmaker, read out a statement by two dozen opposition parties jointly campaigning against the proposed amendments.
“By rejecting the constitutional changes, you will reject the government that perpetrated barbaric acts against people on April 12, 2004, you will reject those who rigged the 1998 and 2003 presidential elections, you will reject Kocharian and his regime,” read the statement.
Another opposition leader, Vazgen Manukian, told the crowd to prepare for street protests in Yerevan planned by the opposition. “If they rig the referendum and again try to seize the country by force and deceit, you will have the right to revolt and put an end to this regime,” he said.
Many participants of the rally were angry about the virtual absence of public transportation in Vanadzor that strangely coincided with the arrival of opposition figures from Yerevan. “Buses are not working today. All the roads are closed,” said one man.
“They closed the roads leading to the city to keep people from coming to this square,” claimed another.