Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian on Tuesday added his voice to opposition criticism of sweeping constitutional changes planned by the Armenian authorities, saying that they would only benefit Serzh Sarkisian and hamper Armenia’s democratization.
“It is obvious that all this is being done for satisfying a single person’s and a single political force’s ambition to retain power,” Oskanian wrote on his Facebook page, commenting on amendments to the Armenian constitution drafted by a presidential commission.
The amendments call for Armenia’s transition to a parliamentary form of government, something which would strip the president of the republic of virtually all executive powers and transfer them to the prime minister backed by a parliamentary majority. Sarkisian’s political allies say such a transition would decentralize power and thus make the country’s political system more democratic.
Most Armenian opposition parties reject these arguments, saying that Sarkisian is only keen to cling to power in another capacity after completing his second and final presidential term in 2018.
Oskanian claimed that Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) lack the legitimacy and popular mandate to seek such a transformation. “A radical change of the government system requires a much greater political, civic and social consolidation,” he said. “There is no consolidation around that idea at the moment.”
Oskanian also insisted that the existing “hybrid” constitutional order is good enough for Armenia. He said it combines well sweeping presidential powers with “elements of parliamentarianism” and would become even more workable in case of free and fair elections.
Oskanian, who has been very critical of Sarkisian’s track record, did not say whether he is ready to join major opposition parties like the Armenian National Congress (HAK) in trying to scuttle the constitutional reform. The proposed amendments are expected to be put on a referendum in November.
Oskanian, who served as foreign minister during former President Robert Kocharian’s 1998-2008 rule, was until recently affiliated with another opposition force, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK). He resigned from the BHK in March after its founding leader, Gagik Tsarukian, capitulated in a bitter standoff with Sarkisian. Tsarukian’s exit left the party, the second largest in parliament, facing an uncertain future.
An Armenian newspaper report last month claimed that Oskanian and several other former BHK figures are planning to set up a new opposition party that would serve as Kocharian’s new support base. The ex-minister has not commented on that claim.