President Serzh Sarkisian appears to have made a final decision to try to transform Armenian into a parliamentary republic with a largely ceremonial head of state not elected by popular vote, an opposition politician said on Thursday.
Armen Rustamian, a leader of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), also revealed that he and top representatives of about a dozen other parties held fresh discussions on the issue with Sarkisian on Tuesday.
The presidential press office issued no statements on the meeting. It featured politicians that are loyal to Sarkisian or at least do not reject out of hand his plans to amend Armenia’s constitution. According to Rustamian and other participants, the meeting was also attended by members of a presidential commission tasked with drafting constitutional amendments.
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.
In Rustamian’s words, the commission has managed to address the president’s concerns. In particular, he said, the ad hoc body has clarified that Armenia’s armed forces would be collectively led by the prime minister and his or cabinet in peacetime. The prime minister would become their commander-in-chief during a war, he said.
Also, Rustamian went on, the next president of the republic would be elected by the Armenian parliament, rather than popular vote. “There will be no presidential elections in 2018,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Vahram Baghdasarian, the parliamentary leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), said the commission stands by its strong support for the parliamentary model. But he cautioned that it has still not finished the drafting of amendments that are expected to be put on a referendum next year.
Baghdasarian said the commission will hold more discussions with experts from the Council of Europe and Armenians parties before submitting a final constitutional package to the National Assembly in September.
Two other major opposition parties, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Zharangutyun (Heritage), are categorically against the proposed switch to the parliamentary republic. They maintain that Sarkisian is only seeking to stay in power in another capacity after completing his second presidential term in 2018. Both parties have signaled their intention to try to scuttle the constitutional reform with street protests.