President Serzh Sarkisian may stay in power after the end of his final presidential term in 2018 if he fails to turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic, according to a senior representative of the ruling Republican Party (HHK).
Davit Harutiunian issued this warning late on Tuesday as he sought to disprove opposition claims that a “No” vote in Sunday’s referendum on Sarkisian’s constitutional changes would pave the way for regime change Armenia. Harutiunian, who is also the chief of the Armenian government staff, claimed that the country’s next president will have few powers in any case.
“What will happen [in case of a ‘No’ vote?]” he told the A1 Plus TV station. “I think there will be regular [parliamentary] elections in 2017. If the Republican Party retains a majority in the parliament, especially thanks to single-seat constituencies, it will form a government.”
“I don’t exclude that [in that case] Serzh Sarkisian will eventually become prime minister and all levers of executive authority will be transferred from the president to the prime minister,” he said. “I think this will be a very natural scenario if nothing changes.”
Sarkisian has repeatedly stated that he will not seek to become prime minster or parliament speaker if Armenia does switch to the parliamentary system of government. Opposition parties campaigning against the constitutional reform dismiss these assurances, however, saying that he is keen to officially or unofficially extend his rule beyond 2018.
Opposition leaders argue that Armenian presidents have faced the strongest challenges through their rule during presidential elections. They say Sarkisian wants to abolish such elections with his constitutional package in order to strip the opposition of a key mechanism for regime change.
Harutiunian dismissed these arguments, saying that Sarkisian and his party “will do everything” to win the next presidential ballot due in 2018 should they fail to amend the Armenian constitution. “And even if an opposition candidate wins, he will be stripped of executive power levers because the parliamentary majority will legally transfer them to the prime minister,” he said.
Opposition representatives will likely counter that the existing constitution vests significant powers in the presidency which cannot be curtailed by the parliament. In particular, the head of state is empowered to formulate Armenian foreign policy and appoint the top military and law-enforcement officials as well as most judges.