President Serzh Sarkisian is pressing ahead with a controversial constitutional reform that would transform Armenia into a parliamentary republic, parliament speaker Galust Sahakian said on Thursday.
According to Sahakian, corresponding draft amendments to the Armenian constitution are likely to be put on a referendum by the beginning of next year.
The amendments will stem from a reform “concept” that was put forward in October by an ad hoc presidential commission. Sarkisian postponed a formal acceptance of the document at the time in the face of street protests staged by Armenia’s three leading opposition parties. The latter have strongly opposed the constitutional reform, saying that it is aimed at enabling Sarkisian to stay in power after completing his second and final term in 2018.
Sarkisian strongly defended the planned amendments on February 12 as he ordered a government crackdown on the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the most important member of the opposition trio. Still, he stopped short of explicitly announcing a resumption of the reform process. Such an announcement is expected in the coming weeks.
“The concept is under public discussion,” Sahakian told reporters. “Not only Republicans but also all other political forces and civic structures can discuss it.”
“As for the [amended] constitution itself, I think it will be published very soon,” he said. “It will naturally be put on a referendum.”
Asked about possible dates of the referendum, the deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) said, “I think the draft will most probably be ready this fall. But I can’t say for certain whether [the referendum] will be held this fall or in the spring of 2016.”
In late January, BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian threatened to topple Sarkisian with non-stop street protests if the president presses ahead with the reform. However, the ensuing government crackdown forced Tsarukian to not only drop those threats but also effectively end his political activities. His retirement from politics will remove a major hurdle to the passage of the constitutional changes planned by Sarkisian.