By Karine Kalantarian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
Two prominent Armenian politicians summed up on Wednesday the arguments of supporters and opponents of President Robert Kocharian’s constitutional reform in a one-on-one debate followed by reporters.
Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, who has played a major role in the development of amendments put to the referendum, emphasized the fact that Armenia’s post-Soviet constitution has been widely criticized for giving the president of the republic disproportionate powers. His opponent from the Artarutyun bloc, Albert Bazeyan, agreed that the constitution is flawed but said it can not be genuinely reformed under the current Armenian leadership.
“There isn’t a single person who would not admit, at least mentally, that the existing constitution has exhausted itself and hampers the country’s development,” Torosian said, opening the debate held at Yerevan’s Hayeli (Mirror) club. He said the proposed amendments have been positively assessed by the West and would turn Armenia into a more democratic country.
Bazeyan admitted that some of the amendments curtailing the presidential powers are good for democratization, but said the overall constitutional draft is not far-reaching enough. He described as “unacceptable” provisions that would give Kocharian immunity from prosecution and empower the government and parliament to change Armenia’s borders without a referendum.
“Besides, we don’t have the kind of political atmosphere which is very important for reforming the country’s basic law,” added Bazeyan. “The process is already illegitimate as there are no conditions for fair campaigning. The opposition is totally deprived of any possibility to express its views on TV. On the other hand, the authorities have enlisted all state bodies, local governments and law-enforcement agencies for propagandizing a ‘yes’ vote.”
“I agree with Mr. Bazeyan in that it would be great if there was political consensus in our country and everyone expressed their views and supported the constitutional draft,” responded Torosian. “Unfortunately, we have what we have.”
The vice-speaker acknowledged that the authorities’ “Yes” campaign is “not perfect” and said both rival camps are relying on “individuals who are totally uninformed about the draft and lack the necessary knowledge to pass serious judgment on it.” He at the same time claimed the fact that calls for a “yes” vote dominate TV coverage of the referendum campaign shows that proponents of the reform greatly outnumber its opponents.
The country’s leading opposition groups have called on their supporters to boycott Sunday’s referendum. They have also told opposition representatives to withdraw from the election commissions that will handle the vote.
Victor Dallakian, an Artarutyun leader, alleged on Wednesday that the government-controlled commissions have already received an explicit “order to perpetrate falsifications.” “Therefore it can already be stated that the referendum is illegal and the opposition will not accept its results,” he told RFE/RL.
Artarutyun and its opposition allies plan to begin a campaign of anti-government street protests on voting day. One of them, former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian, will hold a separate rally in Yerevan on Friday.
The authorities, meanwhile, remain confident about their chances of winning popular support for the changes. “We are more than optimistic,” the “Yes” campaign spokesman, Spartak Seyranian, told RFE/RL.
(Photolur photo: Torosian, left, and Bazeyan shaking hands before the debate.)