By Hrach Melkumian
President Robert Kocharian acknowledged on Monday that vigorous opposition protests have forced him to delay a referendum on amending Armenia’s constitution which he hoped to call this fall.
He said recent parliament debates on an alternative draft constitution proposed by the opposition took up a lot of time and he now believes that the constitutional referendum should be combined with next year’s parliamentary elections.
“We are physically unable to hold the referendum in June and will hardly to do so in the fall,” Kocharian declared, speaking on Armenian state television during a live televised bridge with Los Angeles and Moscow. “We are more likely to hold the referendum parallel to the parliamentary elections.”
The legislative polls are due in May 2003, approximately two months after the next presidential vote. Kocharian said both elections will be held “on time, in accordance with the constitution,” effectively ending speculation about the current parliament’s possible dissolution this year.
Kocharian’s constitutional amendment package, which would somewhat curtail sweeping presidential powers, has been rejected by six major opposition parties. Earlier this year they proposed a new draft constitution that would transform Armenia into a parliamentary republic and demanded that it be put on the referendum along with the presidential amendments.
Kocharian has ruled out that option, admitting that the majority of voters will not back his amendments if they are allowed to choose between the two differing versions of constitutional reform.
The National Assembly on March 19 put off planned debates on the president’s draft amendments amid signs that Kocharian is no longer pushing for the holding of the constitutional referendum this year. Two weeks later the opposition postponed indefinitely a parliament vote on its alternative draft, anticipating its almost certain rejection by the pro-government majority.
Kocharian, answering questions from mainly Diaspora Armenians, said the political situation in Armenia remains “stable” despite the latest series of opposition demonstrations against his regime. But he warned his opponents that mounting political tensions could scare off potential foreign investors. “Every irresponsible statement [by the opposition] is a direct blow to the pocket of every citizen,” he said.
Kocharian also sought to dispel Diaspora concerns about investment risks in Armenia, assuring ethnic Armenian entrepreneurs that the business climate in the country has been steadily improving despite the continuing large scale of government corruption.