An ad hoc commission on constitutional reform set up by President Serzh Sarkisian on Monday stood by its view that Armenia must be transformed into a parliamentary republic with a largely ceremonial head of state.
The commission formally recommended a sharp reduction of presidential powers in a reform “concept” that was submitted to Sarkisian in October. It argued that the parliamentary form of governance involving a powerful prime minister would be more democratic and effective.
Sarkisian formally approved the 49-page document in March. Still, citing national security considerations, he voiced misgivings about the wisdom of the radical change envisaged by it.
Senior representatives of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) said afterwards that a less radical constitutional reform envisaging a “semi-presidential” system might also be an option.
According to Poghosian, a commission member, the body headed by Gagik Harutiunian, chairman of the Armenian Constitutional Court, continues to insist on Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic.
“We are working on one draft, and depending on the nature of political consultations and proposals by political forces, certain modifications of the draft are possible,” said Poghosian. “I don’t even exclude that the draft will contain different alternatives.”
“I consider that very unlikely, though, because the commission has already arrived at an expert conclusion in favor of the parliamentary system,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Poghosian emphasized at the same time the fact that Sarkisian will have the final say on draft constitutional amendments that will be submitted to the Armenian parliament for approval before being put on a referendum.
Some senior HHK figures have said that the referendum will take place by the beginning of next year.
Most of Armenia’s main opposition parties represented in the National Assembly have rejected the reform. Two of them, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Zharangutyun party, claim that it is aimed at enabling Sarkisian to stay in power in a different capacity after completing his second and final presidential term in 2018.
Poghosian dismissed these claims, saying that Sarkisian could do that without amending the existing constitution. He argued that the constitution already gives significant powers to the prime minister and his cabinet.
In an apparent bid to allay opposition fears, Sarkisian declared a year ago that he will not become prime minister if Armenia is after all turned into a parliamentary republic. Some oppositionists and political analysts have suggested that he will aspire to the post of parliament speaker in 2018.