A coalition of Armenian non-governmental organizations promoting European integration on Tuesday urged President Serzh Sarkisian delay his controversial constitutional changes until after holding elections widely seen as free and fair.
In a statement, the Armenian National Platform supporting the European Union’s Eastern Partnership program said that the country’s post-Soviet culture of electoral fraud makes any constitutional reform meaningless. It also said that the reform process initiated by Sarkisian has been overshadowed by intense speculation about his political future. A referendum on the proposed changes, due in November or December, should therefore be postponed, it added.
Armenian opposition and civic groups say that the changes are meant to allow Sarkisian to stay in power in a different capacity after his second and final presidential term expires in 2018. The changes envisage Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic with a largely ceremonial president and a much more powerful government and parliament.
Sarkisian and his political allies deny these claims. They insist that the package of amendments to the Armenian constitution drafted by an ad hoc presidential commission would only facilitate the country’s democratization by decentralizing power.
Echoing critics’ statements, the National Platform argued that the existing constitution does provide for the rule of law and democratic elections. It said that successive governments in Yerevan have simply lacked the political will to comply with these fundamental provisions.
Boris Navasardian, a leader of the grouping uniting around 200 NGOs, also downplayed the fact that the Sarkisian administration’s constitutional package has been endorsed by over a dozen political parties, including those in opposition. He claimed that this is not an indication of broad-based political support for the reform.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Navasardian insisted that many ordinary Armenians show no interest in the issue that has increasingly dominated the domestic political discourse over the past year. He warned that this popular apathy would only increase the risk of serious fraud in the upcoming constitutional referendum.
The Venice Commission, a Council of Europe structure dealing with legal reforms, largely backed the draft amendments earlier this month after they underwent changes recommended by its experts. The commission said that they would mark a “further important step forward in the transition of Armenia towards democracy.”