Armenia’s leading pro-government and opposition parties stuck to their conflicting positions on far-reaching constitutional changes sought by President Serzh Sarkisian at a roundtable discussion of their top representatives held in Yerevan on Tuesday.
Raffi Hovannisian, the leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, organized the one-day meeting of the six parties represented in the Armenian parliament in an attempt to bridge their differences. An ad hoc presidential commission drafting constitutional amendments was also invited to participate in the gathering.
Members of the commission, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) argued that curtailing the sweeping presidential powers is critical for Armenia’s democratization.
Their colleagues from the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Zharangutyun insisted, however, that the main purpose of the constitutional reform is to help President Serzh Sarkisian stay in power after the end of his second and final term in 2018.
“Under the guise of constitutional changes, they are trying to present us with a totally new constitution,” said the HAK’s Levon Zurabian. The purpose of that constitution, he claimed, is to “perpetuate” Sarkisian’s rule through Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic led by a powerful parliament speaker and prime minister. “We will never allow such a thing,” added Zurabian.
Elinar Vartanian, a parliament deputy from the BHK, similarly spoke of a “reproduction” sought by Sarkisian. She dismissed the official rationale for the planned reform, saying that Armenia has more urgent needs.
Artsvik Minasian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, disagreed. He said that the Armenian opposition should seize upon what his party considers a unique opportunity to create a system of constitutional checks and balances. He said the BHK, the HAK and Zharangutyun should come up with alternative constitutional proposals, rather than reject the reform out of hand.
“Should we really be fixated on what the authorities allegedly want?” asked Minasian. “But what do we want? If we really want to ensure that no government can [illegally] reproduce itself and be able to form an artificial parliamentary majority, then we must demand and push for a [constitutional] package desired by us.”
Vartan Poghosian, a member of the presidential commission, insisted that the body headed by Constitutional Court Chairman Gagik Harutiunian has no hidden political agenda. “Power corrupts people and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” he said. “The government system that has existed in Armenia since independence is close to autocracy in the sense that is almost beyond control.”
Poghosian also confirmed that the commission will submit the final version of a reform “concept” to Sarkisian by October 15.