Just months after threatening street protests against President Serzh Sarkisian’s controversial constitutional reform, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) said on Wednesday that it is ready, in principle, to back far-reaching amendments drafted by his administration.
The leadership of Armenia’s second largest parliamentary party, until recently headed by businessman Gagik Tsarukian, made this clear immediately after a meeting with Sarkisian.
The meeting was part of his fresh consultations with the country’s leading political groups aimed at drumming up support for Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic envisaged by the draft amendments. They began less than a week after the amendments were formally endorsed by Sarkisian and sent to the Armenian parliament for approval.
“It was a fairly productive meeting, and I think that we should keep moving forward,” BHK spokesman Vahan Babayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Babayan said that Sarkisian has accepted most of the BHK’s proposals on the constitutional reform and that the nominally opposition party no longer thinks that the president is keen to amend the Armenian constitution in order to prolong his rule. “There is no such issue anymore,” he said. “We have nothing to say about [the regime’s] reproduction because we now think that this reproduction component is now eliminated.”
“Having examined the final [constitutional] package and presented our proposals, we are arriving at a conclusion that we can create a document that could be acceptable for the society,” added Babayan.
As recently as in February, the BHK and Tsarukian in particular fiercely opposed the reform drive jointly with more radical opposition forces. Tsarukian organized a special conference for that purpose on February 5. He threatened to topple Sarkisian with street protests if the latter presses ahead with the controversial constitutional changes.
Sarkisian hit back hard a week later, lashing out at Tsarukian at a meeting with his political allies and ordering a government crackdown of his numerous businesses. The tycoon close to former President Robert Kocharian initially resisted the onslaught, calling Sarkisian’s ouster “the greatest cause of my life.” But he caved in shortly afterwards, resigning as BHK chairman and ending his political activities altogether.
The BHK has since significantly toned down its criticism of Sarkisian, while claiming to remain in opposition to his administration. Its opposition credentials are increasingly questioned by Armenian observers.
Sarkisian on Wednesday also met with leaders of Dashnaktsutyun and Orinats Yerkir, two other opposition parties previously represented in his government. Dashnaktsutyun is the only opposition force to have officially endorsed his constitutional changes so far. Orinats Yerkir has followed a more ambiguous line.
Two other, more radical opposition parties, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Zharangutyun, continue to strongly object to Armenia’s transition to a parliamentary system of government, saying that would only enable Sarkisian to stay in power after 2018. They have pledged to campaign against the corresponding constitutional changes that are expected to be put on a referendum in November.