Armenian National Congress (HAK) leader Levon Ter-Petrosian believes opposition to the constitutional reform initiated by the current government will become the core issue of the country’s non-governing forces that plan street protests next fall.
In an interview with ilur.am published on Monday, the head of the opposition party that has the second largest minority faction in the parliament predicted that it is the ‘untimely’ initiated changes in the Constitution tailored to the needs of the ruling Republican Party that, unless aborted, will spell the downfall of President Serzh Sarkisian and his government.
The Sarkisian administration initiated the reform last September. A commission of experts came up with several draft concepts, one of which suggests turning Armenia into a parliamentary republic. A majority of leading opposition parties as well as Sarkisian’s predecessor, Robert Kocharian, criticized the government for the initiative, considering that it is not a priority issue in Armenia today. Many of them also see ulterior reasons behind the move, fearing that President Sarkisian is thus preparing the ground for staying in power beyond 2018 when his second and last term as president expires. Sarkisian himself has denied any intention to occupy any top government post after the end of his presidency.
Ter-Petrosian, who was Armenia’s president in 1991-1998, also criticized Sarkisian and his ruling Republican Party for ignoring the other pressing issues facing the country, primarily the situation at the volatile Armenian-Azerbaijani border and around Nagorno-Karabakh that has become particularly tense against the background of other regional developments, including the slow process of Armenia’s accession to the emerging Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Ter-Petrosian suggested that Armenia’s biggest dilemma at present is the demand set by the EEU founding members to install customs checkpoints at Armenia’s border with Nagorno-Karabakh.
“The Armenian government is now facing the dilemma of whether to meet this demand or not… If the government fails to meet the demand, Armenia, which has already spoiled its relations with the West, will find itself in complete political and economic vacuum. And if it meets the demand, it will create a situation in which Nagorno-Karabakh will be feel panicky and abandoned, which is fraught with serious tensions in the relations between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said.
“And now instead of putting out the fire that has broken out in Armenia and Karabakh, the regime is preoccupied with destroying the foundations of Armenian statehood, a hostile act that wouldn’t occur even to Azerbaijan.”
According to the HAK leader, Sarkisian considers the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of tycoon Gagik Tsarukian, a key member of the informal four-party minority coalition, as the main obstacle to its constitutional reform, which is formally at the stage of public discussions now.
The HAK, the BHK as well as two other opposition parties in June issued a list of concrete demands to the Sarkisian government, warning that failure to meet them could lead them to make a joint push for a power change in fall. Cancelling plans for changing the Constitution is not among the demands.
However, Ter-Petrosian insisted that the BHK has come under immense pressure from the government on this particular issue.
“While until recently he [Sarkisian] tried to overcome this obstacle by using a carrot, that is, to win the party over by promises, then now, according to information that we have, he is going to use the stick by employing the entire law-enforcement machine against the BHK, using threats and blackmail,” he said, without elaborating.
According to Ter-Petrosian, “other opposition parties and the entire society cannot tolerate it.”
“The issue of the constitutional reform is, therefore, a watershed of sorts between the dictatorial regime and the healthy forces of the society, and the future of Armenia and Karabakh depends on the solution to this problem,” the opposition leader said. “If Sarkisian continues to persist in his attempt to eternalize his power by means of constitutional changes, then under the pressure of serious political processes that will unfold in fall, he, no doubt, will dig the grave for his own bandit regime.”