The Armenian National Congress (HAK) on Thursday called on the country’s opposition and civic groups to join forces against a constitutional reform which it said is aimed at “perpetuating” President Serzh Sarkisian’s hold on power.
The opposition party led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian also dismissed Sarkisian’s assurances that he would not occupy any state posts if he succeeds in turning Armenia into a parliamentary republic.
In a long statement, the HAK insisted that Sarkisian, whom the current Armenian constitution bars from seeking a third presidential term, plans to become parliament speaker after completing his tenure in 2018. It said constitutional changes drafted by a presidential commission would make the speaker the country’s most powerful official capable of controlling the government through a loyal majority in the National Assembly.
The HAK claimed that Armenia would have a “weak and vulnerable” prime minister in case of its transition to a parliament system of government envisaged by the proposed amendments. Far from providing for more effective constitutional checks balances, the amendments represent a “program for a coup d’etat” that would turn the country into a “dictatorship,” it said.
“They only way to neutralize this danger facing the country is the consolidation of political forces and the public in general and the formation of a broad-based resistance front,” added the statement. “The HAK will spare no effort to form such a resistance front and is calling on all political and public groups to put aside their differences and join the struggle.”
Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s deputy chairman, insisted that there is a fertile ground for the emergence of such a coalition. He argued that four of the five opposition parties holding seats in the Armenian parliament are against Sarkisian’s constitutional reform. He said groups not represented in the National Assembly could also join the anti-government alliance.
“There is already a very strong public reaction to [the constitutional changes,] which is really encouraging,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The HAK and Zharangutyun (Heritage) are the only parliamentary opposition forces that have so far expressed readiness to resist the proposed changes with street protests.
Sarkisian stated more than a year ago that he will not become prime minister if Armenia does switch to the parliamentary system. His opponents responded by claiming that he would most likely become parliament speaker and continue to control the government in that capacity. Sarkisian reportedly ruled out such a possibility as well when he met with senior members of his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) last week.
Zurabian dismissed that pledge, however. He said the draft constitutional amendments make the president’s plans to stay in power after 2018 even more evident.
The HHK, meanwhile, deplored the opposition party’s latest claims. “Instead of engaging in substantive discussions on constitutional changes, they speak of revolutions or other confrontations,” said Hovannes Sahakian, a senior lawmaker from the ruling party. “This once again proves that those political forces are not sure that they can win [future] elections.”