Opposition Heritage party leader Raffi Hovannisian and bitter government critic Jirair Sefilian have announced their joint push for regime change ahead of a December referendum on controversial constitutional changes initiated by the current administration.
The two leaders said on Monday they have formed joint opposition headquarters named the “New Armenia” public salvation front.
Sefilian, who is a member of the extra-parliamentary Founding Parliament group that is also pushing for a change of government in Armenia, said negotiations were underway with the leading opposition Armenian National Congress party of ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian for joining the new front. He said the negotiations were aimed at smoothing out some “tactical” differences.
At the same time, Sefilian said that the idea of “saying no” to the constitutional changes alone was not enough for them.
“Naturally, we are against any constitutional changes under this regime, but our difference is that we say that the head of this regime has become so haughty that he now tries to take such a dangerous step, and that political opposition forces must unite to get rid of this regime and preferably before the referendum.”
Opponents of the reform maintain that the proposed amendments to the Armenian Constitution that turn the country into a parliamentary republic are aimed at enabling current President Serzh Sarkisian to indefinitely stay in power in a different capacity after the end of his second and final presidential term in 2018.
Sarkisian has denied this, saying that he will not become prime minister or parliament speaker if the amendments are adopted. The president, his ruling Republican Party of Armenia and other political allies say that such a radical change would, on the contrary, decentralize power and facilitate the country’s democratization.
Legal experts from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission largely endorsed the draft amendments last month after most of the changes in the text recommended by them were accepted by the Sarkisian administration.
Meanwhile, “New Armenia” says it will hold its next rally with the demand for early presidential and parliamentary elections. The leaders of the new group said they agreed with another civic group, “You Won’t Pass It”, campaigning against the constitutional changes to hold a joint rally on October 30 to mark the launch of a joint campaign.
“We have embraced the ‘No’ idea, but we’re not satisfied with just that,” Sefilian stressed.
“We are optimistic that we will reach agreement [with other opposition groups] soon,” he added.