President Serzh Sarkisian should not quit power after completing his second and final term in 2018, deputies from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) said during ongoing parliamentary debates on constitutional changes sought by him.
One of those lawmakers, Margarit Yesayan, blasted opposition statements that the controversial amendments to the Armenian constitution must be thwarted because they would enable Sarkisian to prolong his rule through the country’s transformation into a parliamentary republic.
“Why can’t he do that? Which one of you is better than Serzh Sarkisian?” Yesayan told opposition deputies at the start of the debates on Tuesday.
“Look at his biography. Why should a politician and statesman with such a rich background stay at home after the end of his tenure?” she said, adding that Sarkisian’s continued presence in government is essential for Armenia.
Yesayan’s remarks were echoed by other HHK deputies on Wednesday. “He must hold some position [after 2018,]” one of them, Ruben Hovsepian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “He must participate in state building.”
Asked which state post Sarkisian should occupy after the end of his presidential tenure, Hovsepian said: “Any position he wants. In any case, he would be wrong to stay at home.”
The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), a vocal critic of the proposed constitutional reform, was quick to seize upon these statements. Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s parliamentary leader, said his pro-government colleagues effectively admitted that Sarkisian plans to stay in power as speaker of Armenia’s next parliament, which will become much more powerful if the president succeeds in pushing through his amendments.
“They are changing the constitution to ensure that role,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Seeking to disprove the opposition claims, Sarkisian stated more than a year ago that he will not become prime minister in case of Armenia’s transition to the parliamentary system of government. Members of a presidential commission that has drafted the amendments said in July that he would not seek the post of parliament speaker either.
Zurabian again dismissed those assurances as the National Assembly continued to debate the constitutional reform package on Wednesday. He said that Sarkisian has not personally and publicly promised that he will not lead the parliament. “Stop misinforming our public,” he told Vartan Poghosian, a member of the presidential commission who presented the package to lawmakers.
Poghosian insisted that the president has given such promises “through various channels.” “I insist that the president of the republic has stated for the public that he will not aspire to the post of National Assembly chairman if there is a transition to the parliamentary system,” he said.