Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian on Thursday called on Armenia’s leading opposition groups to join forces and exploit an anticipated constitutional referendum for toppling President Serzh Sarkisian.
In an extensive article posted on ilur.am, the top leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) accused Sarkisian of seeking to cling to power by amending the Armenian constitution and making the country part of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union at any cost. He described Sarkisian’s domestic and foreign policy agenda as a “roadmap to ruining Armenia.”
“Serzh Sarkisian is ready to make any concession, accept without objections any document put forward Russia and endure any humiliation for the sake of joining the Eurasian Union as quickly as possible and gaining President [Vladimir] Putin’s sympathy,” Ter-Petrosian charged. He said Sarkisian suffered one such humiliation last week when Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev set a pro-Azerbaijani condition for Armenia’s accession to the union.
Ter-Petrosian also lambasted the recently appointed Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian, saying that his main mission is to enable the ruling regime to continue “plundering” the nation and rigging elections. “[Sarkisian] could have hardly found a better candidate than Abrahamian for organizing those things,” he said.
“Therefore, it is imperative to get rid of this regime leading the nation to ruin as soon as possible,” said the 69-year-old ex-president. “If that does not happen soon and the constitutional referendum takes place, then we must turn that referendum into the last and decisive phase of regime change through a nationwide demonstration of no confidence.”
The appeal seemed primarily addressed to the opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of businessman Gagik Tsarukian, the second largest parliamentary force that has increasingly cooperated with the HAK and two other established opposition groups over the past year. That cooperation is widely believed to have forced the Armenian president to replace Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian by Abrahamian and reshuffle his government in April.
Shortly after Abrahamian’s appointment, Ter-Petrosian urged the HAK’s opposition allies to go ahead with joint anti-government rallies planned in Yerevan and try to force snap parliamentary elections. However, the four parties decided earlier this week not to stage street protests at least until this autumn. Their representatives said they will actively challenge the government if it fails to meet a set of political and economic demands in the coming months. The full list of those demands has not yet been publicized.
According to Ter-Petrosian, Sarkisian is now desperate to secure BHK support for constitutional amendments which the HAK leader believes are aimed at helping the president stay in power after completing second and final term in 2018. While expressing confidence that Tsarukian’s party will refuse to cut any power-sharing deals with Sarkisian, Ter-Petrosian warned, “A political force that backs the hapless constitutional reform initiative would become an accomplice of Armenia’s gravediggers: Serzh Sarkisian and his gang called the Republican Party.”
Senior officials working on the planned changes in the constitution have said that they will be put on the referendum by the beginning of 2016. The Sarkisian administration is expected to propose curbs on sweeping powers currently enjoyed by the president of the republic.
The existing constitution bars Sarkisian from seeking a third term in office. There has been speculation that he wants to stay in power as a powerful prime minister or parliament speaker. Sarkisian has not categorically ruled out such a possibility.
BHK representatives have repeatedly spoken out against the planned amendments in the past several weeks. Former President Robert Kocharian, who is regarded by some observers as Tsarukian’s political patron, criticized them in his most recent scathing attack on the current Armenian leadership voiced in late April. “We need clear guarantees that the reform is not aimed at serving the interests of the ruling elite and would not become a tool for its reproduction,” said Kocharian.