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Constitutional Reform ‘Victory For Dashnaktsutyun’


Armenia - Dashnaktsutyun party leaders Aghvan Vartanian (L) and Armen Rustamian hold a news conference, Yerevan, 24Aug2015.

Armenia - Dashnaktsutyun party leaders Aghvan Vartanian (L) and Armen Rustamian hold a news conference, Yerevan, 24Aug2015.

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) reaffirmed on Monday its support for President Serzh Sarkisian’s controversial constitutional changes that envisage Armenia’s transition to a parliamentary system of government.

Aghvan Vartanian, a leader of the opposition party, argued that Dashnaktsutyun has long favored the country’s transformation into a parliamentary republic which it believes would bode for democracy and the rule of law.

“This draft constitution corresponds to our vision by 90-95 percent,” said Vartanian. “We can conclude that … our approaches and views have prevailed, even though we are not in government and have only five deputies in the [131-seat] parliament. With this constitution the country will move in a direction envisioned by us.”

“It’s hard to imagine a greater victory for a political force,” Vartanian declared at a joint news conference with another Dashnaktsutyun leader, Armen Rustamian.

Dashnaktsutyun’s stance has fueled media speculation that it is ready to return to the Armenian government, in which it was represented by three ministers until 2009. Hrant Markarian, another top party leader, last month did not rule out the possibility of his party cutting a new power-sharing deal with Sarkisian. But he insisted that it is holding no talks with the president for that purpose yet.

Dashnaktsutyun is the sole parliamentary opposition force to openly endorse a package of constitutional amendments that were drafted by a presidential commission earlier this month. Two other major opposition parties, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Zharangutyun, insist that the constitutional reform would only enable Sarkisian to officially or unofficially stay in power after completing his second and final presidential term in 2018.

The HAK and Zharangutyun have also seized upon another proposed amendment mandating the conduct of a second round of voting if no political party or bloc wins a “stable” parliamentary majority in parliamentary elections. The run-off parliamentary vote would pit the two leading election contenders against each other.

The official rationale for this unusual arrangement is to safeguard political stability in Armenia. The opposition critics say, however, that it would only help Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) retain its control over the National Assembly.

The Venice Commission, a Council of Europe structure monitoring the constitutional reform process, has also voiced serious misgivings about this controversial clause. It believes that details of the electoral system must be spelled out in Armenia’s electoral code, rather than the constitution.

Legal experts from the Venice Commission discussed this contentious issue with relevant Armenian officials at the start of a visit to Yerevan on Monday. Davit Harutiunian, the chief of the Armenian government staff and a member of the presidential panel, did not exclude changes in the constitutional package will be made as a result of those talks.

“Today we discussed issues related to the second round [of parliamentary elections] … I think that we will find a mutually acceptable solution,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Sarkisian formally approved the draft amendments and sent them to the HHK-controlled parliament on Friday. The parliament is expected to debate them next month.

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