A senior official from the Council of Europe on Friday urged Armenian opposition parties to rethink their categorical rejection of sweeping constitutional changes planned by President Serzh Sarkisian.
Gianni Buquicchio, the head of the so-called Venice Commission monitoring legal reforms in Council of Europe member states, stressed the importance of broad-based political support for the reform.
“I call on all political parties to have a constructive role in this constitutional process,” Buquicchio told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azaututyun.am) during an international conference in Yerevan.
Asked about opposition concerns over the planned reform, he said, “The constitution is not like a shirt that you change every day. If there are problems necessitating constitutional reform, that must be done. But that must be done with the broadest possible agreement among political forces.”
Earlier this month, the Venice Commission gave a generally positive assessment of a reform “concept” drawn up by an ad hoc body set up by Sarkisian. It said the changes recommended to Sarkisian would “strengthen democratic principles and establish the necessary conditions for ensuring the rule of law and respect for human rights.”
The Council of Europe body at the same time stopped short of explicitly endorsing the country’s transformation into a parliamentary republic advocated by the presidential panel. It said that requires “broad consensus within society.”
Armenia’s three leading opposition parties rejected the concept out of hand, saying that Sarkisian wants a switch to the parliamentary form of governance in order to stay in power after his second and final term in 2018. The issue has featured large during their ongoing anti-government demonstrations.
In an apparent response to the opposition pressure, Sarkisian announced last week that he will not formally approve or reject the reform concept before February. His press secretary cited the need for “additional discussions” with Armenia’s main political groups.