By Hrach Melkumian
Leaders of Armenia’s three governing parties said on Monday that they believe President Robert Kocharian will not draw inspiration from a reportedly fraudulent weekend referendum in Belarus that allowed its authoritarian ruler to seek a third term in office.
The politicians representing the Republican Party (HHK), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Orinats Yerkir Party told RFE/RL that Kocharian does not intend to change a constitutional provision limiting him to two five-year terms.
Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, seen in the West as Europe’s last dictator, succeeded in removing a similar restriction from his country’s constitution through a referendum which international observers said “fell significantly short of international standards.”
Sunday's vote will enable Lukashenko, already in power since 1994, to run again in 2006. In his bid to cling to power, the 50-year-old former collective farmer ostracized by the West for stifling dissent and preserving Soviet-style command economics is following in the footsteps of the even more autocratic presidents of the ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia.
“I think that can not serve as a precedent for Armenia because we don’t like what has taken place in Belarus,” said Samvel Nikoyan of the HHK. “I think that can not happen in Armenia. My attitude to such processes is negative.”
Levon Mkrtchian, the parliamentary leader of Dashnaktsutyun, agreed, arguing that unlike Belarus, Armenia is pursuing a policy of “European integration.” “In essence, the very development of Armenian statehood and our steps make a repeat of such a scenario almost impossible,” he said.
Under Armenia’s existing constitution Kocharian can not stay in power after completing his second tenure in 2008. A package of amendment drafted by Kocharian and the three coalition parties recently would not scrap that restriction. However, they may still undergo changes before being discussed by the Armenian parliament and put to a referendum next year.
According to Mher Shahgeldian, a senior lawmaker affiliated with Orinats Yerkir, a third Kocharian term is not on the ruling regime’s agenda. “The constitutional changes prepared in Armenia pursue no such goal,” he said. “I think it’s not even an issue. Nor is there such a desire.”
The Armenian opposition, which refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Kocharian’s disputed reelection last year, is distrustful of these assurances. As one of its lawmakers, Grigor Harutiunian, put it, “The referendum in Belarus shows that nothing can be ruled out in our country.”
(RFE/RL archive: Kocharian and Lukashenko meeting in Yerevan in 2002.)