Raffi Hovannisian, the U.S.-born leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, has voiced serious misgivings about the idea of setting up a new house of Armenia’s parliament where representatives of the worldwide Armenian Diaspora would be able to hold seats.
Hovannisian said the idea floated by the government will have “devastating” consequences if it is put into practice before Armenia holds elections widely recognized as free and fair. He suggested that the Armenian authorities are only keen to exploit the Diaspora for giving greater legitimacy to their “illegal” actions.
Visiting California last week, Diaspora Affairs Minister Hranush Hakobian announced that President Serzh Sarkisian wants to enact constitutional changes that would lead to the establishment of an upper chamber of parliament. She said that would “allow Diaspora Armenians to be part of Armenia’s government.”
Sarkisian’s press secretary, Armen Arzumanian, did not deny this. Representatives of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) also implicitly backed the idea.
But Hovannisian, who moved from the United States to Armenia in 1990, was very suspicious of it. “I don’t want to reject out of hand this nice-sounding idea aimed at our nation’s unity,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Tuesday. “But I must say at the same time that Armenia hasn’t held a singe free and fair election within its national borders for almost 20 years, and to extend that divisive vice [of vote rigging] to the Diaspora would be devastating.”
“Although I can’t exclude it, I wouldn’t want to believe that behind this proposal is a desire to seek not just the participation but also the complicity of the Diaspora in anti-national, anti-state, anti-civic and illegal acts periodically committed in Armenia,” he said.
Government representatives have yet to elaborate on just how they think Diaspora Armenians should be elected to the would-be chamber and whether they must be Armenian citizens.
The Armenian National Congress (HAK), a larger and more radical opposition group, has described the possibility of non-citizens passing Armenian laws as “ludicrous.” But the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), another influential party in opposition to Sarkisian, considers the idea acceptable in principle.
The Armenian constitution can only be amended through referendums. Changes in its text must be backed by at least one third of the country’s 2.4 million eligible voters.