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Opposition Parties Clash Over Constitutional Reform


Armenia - Members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Armenian National Congress demonstrate outside the parliament building in Yerevan, 28Feb2012.

Armenia - Members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Armenian National Congress demonstrate outside the parliament building in Yerevan, 28Feb2012.

The Armenian National Congress (HAK) on Thursday accused another major opposition party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), of helping President Serzh Sarkisian to prolong his rule with controversial constitutional changes.

The HAK denounced its former opposition ally for pushing through the Armenian parliament amendments which it said will facilitate the falsification of a constitutional referendum expected next year. Dashnaktsutyun representative rejected the accusations.

The Dashnaktsutyun-drafted amendments were made to a law regulating the holding of referendums in Armenia. The National Assembly passed them on Wednesday following headed debates that involved bitter recriminations between the two parties.

The row was provoked by Dashnaktsutyun’s refusal to incorporate into its bill some of the proposals made by the HAK. The latter put forward a number of safeguards against vote falsifications. Those included the publication of the names of those voters who take part in referendums.

“Unfortunately, Dashnaktsutyun has aligned itself with the [ruling] Republican Party (HHK) not only by supporting transition to a parliamentary republic but also by effectively assisting in the conduct of yet another rigged referendum,” charged Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s parliamentary leader.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Zurabian claimed that Dashnaktsutyun thereby also supports President Serzh Sarkisian’s alleged plans to stay in power in a different capacity after completing his second and final presidential term in 2018. He said Sarkisian is eyeing the post of parliament speaker.

Artsvik Minasian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader and the main author of the adopted bill, insists that his party has always supported the anti-fraud safeguards favored by the HAK but believes that they require corresponding amendments to Armenia’s Electoral Code, rather than the law on referendums.

“They accuse us of cooperating with the Republicans,” Minasian said. “But we have said that we are ready to cooperate with everyone for the sake of positive changes. Didn’t we cooperate with [the HAK?]”

The bill in question was also co-sponsored by Tevan Poghosian, a deputy representing another opposition party, Zharangutyun (Heritage). Poghosian argued on Thursday that the parliament’s pro-government majority would have blocked the bill if it had contained the measures proposed by the HAK.

Poghosian also stressed the importance of the adopted changes to the referendum legislation. One of them guarantees free airtime on Armenian state TV for proponents and opponents of issues put on referendums.

As recently as a year ago, the HAK, Dashnaktsutyun, Zharangutyun and the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) were part of an unofficial alliance that challenged the Sarkisian administration. Dashnaktsutyun pulled out of that grouping in September because it disagreed with its opposition allies’ categorical rejection of Sarkisian’s plans to amend the Armenian constitution.

Dashnaktsutyun has long supported Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic. Its leaders say that the parliamentary form of governance would increase chances of the country’s democratization.

The other major opposition forces and the HAK in particular disagree. The HAK, which is led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, maintains that the reform would only enable Sarkisian to cling to power after 2018.

Zurabian on Thursday reaffirmed his party’s intention to scuttle the controversial reform and consolidate forces opposed to it. “I see all the grounds for turning that into yet another powerful process,” he said, again signaling HAK plans to stage anti-government street protests.

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