President Serzh Sarkisian will likely drop one of his most controversial draft constitutional changes regulating the conduct of parliamentary elections, the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) said on Tuesday.
BHK leaders claimed to have received such assurances from two members of a presidential commission that put forward amendments envisaging Armenia’s switch to a parliamentary system of government.
The commission members, Hrayr Tovmasian and Vartan Poghosian, began fresh consultations with virtually all parties represented in the Armenian parliament on Monday just days after their leaders held talks on the matter with Sarkisian. The talks followed the publication of what was supposed to be the final version of Sarkisian’s constitutional package. They highlighted the president’s apparent readiness to make further changes in the draft in order to muster broad-based political support for the constitutional reform.
Opposition parties supporting the reform concept in principle have strongly objected to a draft amendment stipulating that Armenia’s future general elections must always result in a “stable majority” of parliament seats won by a single party. This would almost certainly require a run-off vote between the two parties winning most votes in the first round of voting.Critics say this unusual arrangement is designed to help Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) retain control over the National Assembly.
Legal experts from the Council of Europe have also criticized the controversial clause, urging the Sarkisian administration to remove it from the text expected to be put on a referendum in November. The presidential commission has essentially refused to do that until now.
“The first impression is that the constitutional provision on the stable majority and the second round will be removed and incorporated into the Electoral Code,” Naira Zohrabian, the BHK chairwoman, said after the meeting with the two commission members. She also predicted that the code will contain a “modified” version of the clause.
The HHK’s parliamentary leader, Vahram Baghdasarian, shed light on that modification on Saturday. He said that a parliamentary run-off vote will not be held if top election contenders manage to form a coalition government after the first round.
Both Baghdasarian and another senior HHK lawmaker, Hovannes Sahakian, insisted on Tuesday that the Armenian president and his party are succeeding in generating a multi-partisan “consolidation” around the constitutional reform. They argued that only two parliamentary opposition forces, Zharangutyun and the Armenian National Congress (HAK), continue to categorically reject Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic.
“What is two or three parties in a political field containing 70-80 parties?” Baghdasarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Hakob Badalian, a political analyst, suggested that the Sarkisian administration is well placed to buy off the other major opposition forces, including the BHK, with promises that they will be represented in the next parliament to be elected in 2017. “The object of the consolidation is not the constitution but power sharing, including distribution of parliament seats,” he said.