By Hrach Melkumian
Opposition leaders ruled out on Monday any involvement in President Robert Kocharian’s renewed push for constitutional reform, insisting that he lacks the popular mandate to amend Armenia’s basic law. They claimed that Kocharian’s revised draft amendments to the Armenian constitution, which were endorsed by the pro-presidential parliament majority on Friday, are “illegitimate” and cosmetic.
“Someone who does not respect the existing law does not have the right to enact new ones. Only a legitimately elected government has the right to make constitutional and other legislative changes,” Aram Sarkisian of the Artarutyun (Justice) alliance told RFE/RL, underlining the opposition’s uncompromising stance on any cooperation with the ruling regime.
The package of amendments approved by the three parties represented in Kocharian’s government and their satellites is a slightly modified version of draft changes that failed to win sufficient popular support at a referendum in May 2003. The authorities said before the vote that the proposed constitutional reform would make the Armenian parliament and government stronger by curtailing the sweeping presidential powers. But the opposition rejected it as a fraud, saying that Kocharian would in fact gain additional powers.
“In my opinion, putting a new variant on a referendum is immoral,” said Victor Dallakian, another Artarutyun leader. “The non-elected president and the dubiously elected coalition have no right to remodel the constitution of the Republic of Armenia.”
Artarutyun and its main opposition ally, the National Unity Party (AMK), were offered by the authorities a say in the constitutional reform on the eve of their unsuccessful campaign for Kocharian’s resignation last spring. Both groups rejected the offer, saying that the authorities should instead hold a referendum of confidence in Kocharian which was suggested by Armenia’s Constitutional Court in April 2003.
Sarkisian and Dallakian said that although the Artarutyun and AMK leaders have not yet discussed and formulated a common position on the continuing government overtures on the reform their response is certain to be negative.
Parliament majority leaders say that among the modifications agreed by Kocharian and his allies are proposals to scale back the planned downsizing of the Armenian parliament and increase its term in office from four to five years. Significantly, one of them, Rafik Petrosian of the Republican Party, was quoted by a Yerevan newspaper at the weekend as saying that the five-year presidential tenure should likewise be prolonged by “one or two years.”
That change, if approved, could allow Kocharian to stay in power until after 2008. The current constitution bars him from seeking a third term in office.
It is not clear whether Petrosian’s suggestion has been incorporated into the constitutional package which the authorities intend to put on a referendum in July 2005. The revised changes have not yet been made public.
(Photolur photo: Aram Sarkisian.)