By Armen Zakarian
President Robert Kocharian and the leaders of the three political parties represented in his government have agreed to cut back on the planned reduction of seats in Armenia’s parliament, officials said on Monday.
The agreement was reached at a meeting last Friday that discussed Kocharian’s long-standing plans for constitutional reform, some of its participants told RFE/RL.
According to Mher Shahgeldian of the governing Orinats Yerkir party, it means that the 131-member National Assembly would be downsized to 121 seats, up from 101 seats envisaged by a package of constitutional amendments put on a referendum in May 2003. The draft amendments failed to win sufficient public support at the time, and the Armenian authorities plan to hold another constitutional referendum by June 2005. Officials have indicated that the reform proposed by Kocharian may undergo some changes.
Shahgeldian revealed that some of the coalition parties objected to the “drastic” reduction of the parliament seats and that a “compromise solution” was found as a result. He also said the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), another coalition party, had some reservations about the change and agreed to it on the condition that the authorities increase the share of parliament seats contested under the system of proportional representation.
Armen Rustamian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader who also attended the meeting with Kocharian, clarified in a separate interview that his party wants a constitutional clause that would ensure that 80 percent of Armenian lawmakers are elected on the party list basis.
Such issues have so far been regulated by Armenia’s electoral code which is amended on a regular basis. The proportional system, also favored by the opposition, currently extends to 57 percent of the parliament seats.
Rustamian also said that Dashnaktsutyun stands for greater curbs on the sweeping presidential powers for which the current Armenian constitution, enacted in 1995, has been heavily criticized. He said Armenia’s parliament, cabinet of ministers and local governments must be given greater authority under a more effective system of checks and balances.
Kocharian has maintained that his amendments would achieve just that. However, his opponents dismiss them as cosmetic and accuse him of seeking even more powers.