President Serzh Sarkisian plans to hold the referendum on his far-reaching amendments to Armenia’s constitution before the end of this year, a leading member of his governing Republican Party (HHK) said on Wednesday.
“If not in November, then in the beginning of December,” Vahram Baghdasarian, the leader of the HHK faction in parliament, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) when asked about the likely date of the referendum.
Baghdasarian spoke ahead of parliamentary debates on a long list of constitutional amendments that have been drafted by an ad hoc presidential commission. The National Assembly controlled by the HHK is expected to start debating them next week. Observers anticipate that its pro-government majority will ensure a formal parliamentary approval of the proposed changes by the end of this month.
“I think that the National Assembly will manage to do its part without haste,” Baghdasarian said of the upcoming debates that promise to be very heated.
Sarkisian’s constitutional package calls for a radical change of Armenia’s existing system of government that gives sweeping powers to the president of the republic. It would transfer most of those powers to the government formed by the parliamentary majority.
The proposed transition to the parliamentary republic has until now been rejected by virtually all opposition parties represented in the parliament. The Sarkisian administration is trying to win over most of those with a number of concessions.
Only two parliamentary opposition parties, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Zharangutyun (Heritage), continue to categorically reject the constitutional reform. They maintain that it is aimed at enabling Sarkisian to retain at least de facto control over the government after completing his second and final presidential term in 2018.
Zharangutyun leader Raffi Hovannisian on Wednesday reaffirmed his party’s strong opposition to the constitutional changes, saying that Sarkisian lacks the legitimacy to enact them. “Mr. Sarkisian, who illegally occupies his post, is trying to figure out ways of remaining relevant [after 2018,]” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Hovannisian also confirmed that Zharangutyun is ready to work together with the HAK and other like-minded groups in trying to thwart the reform. But he would not say what concrete forms of their joint campaign could take.
Asked about the possibility of an opposition push for regime change, Hovannisian said, “We demand the resignation of Serzh Sarkisian and his regime for the sake of Armenia.”
HAK leaders have repeatedly pledged to turn the upcoming referendum into a popular vote of no confidence in Sarkisian. But it is not clear whether they plan to organize nonstop protests during or after the vote.