President Serzh Sarkisian could stay in power as prime minister after completing his second and final presidential term in 2018, a leading member of his ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) confirmed on Friday.
Sarkisian spoke rather ambiguously about his political future on Thursday as met with top state officials tasked with drafting amendments to the Armenian constitution. He told them that he will not seek to become prime minister if they advocate Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic. But he did not say what he will do if they do not propose such a radical change.
In the words Galust Sahakian, the HHK’s deputy chairman and parliamentary leader, this means that Sarkisian might take over as prime minister if the existing government system remains largely intact. “If such a situation emerges and a decision is made, he will naturally be [prime minister.] If he doesn’t wish so, he won’t be,” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Sarkisian announced plans for constitutional reform in September, saying that it should create a more effective system of checks and balances. His political opponents, notably the Armenian National Congress (HAK), say that the president’s real aim is to cling to power after 2018.
The HAK stood by its claims in a statement on the issue released on Friday. “The reason for the publication of a package of constitutional changes is as follows: Serzh Sarkisian is faced today with a real danger of losing power and with this bite is trying to distract the public and political forces from the existing political crisis,” said the statement.
The opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party also spoke out against the planned reform. One of its leaders, Ruben Hakobian, said while Zharangutyun has long favored a switch to a parliamentary republic it believes that now is not the time to amend the constitution. Armenia is facing other, more pressing challenges, he said.
The opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest parliamentary force, expressed on Thursday a similar position on the constitutional reform through one of its senior lawmakers, Vartan Oskanian. The HHK’s Sahakian dismissed Oskanian’s statement, saying that only BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian can speak for the party.
Sarkisian’s latest statements and constitutional proposals were welcomed by another major opposition group, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). Aghvan Vartanian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, said the reform is necessary for addressing the issues raised by the opposition.