By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia’s former ruling party reaffirmed on Wednesday its strong opposition to any amendments to the existing post-Soviet constitution which it drew up and controversially enacted ten years ago.
The Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), the main support base of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, said it will actively campaign against the passage of the current government’s constitutional amendments even if they are endorsed by the Council of Europe.
“We will organize a serious campaign of counter-propaganda to prevent the draft’s passage,” its deputy chairman, Aram Manukian, told RFE/RL. “I am sure that we will win the battle.” He said this position was reaffirmed by the party’s ruling board earlier in the day.
The HHSh leadership and other Ter-Petrosian allies staunchly opposed to President Robert Kocharian have always defended the Armenian constitution widely criticized for vesting sweeping powers in the presidency. They say the basic law has been key to “political stability” in the country.
But Manukian cited other arguments, saying that Kocharian lacks the legitimacy to amend the constitution in the first place. He also claimed that an amended constitution would give Kocharian a pretext to seek a third term in office, something which he can not do under the existing law.
Manukian said the HHSh is preparing to mark the tenth anniversary of the July 1995 constitutional referendum the official results of which were rejected as fraudulent by Ter-Petrosian’s opponents. The referendum marked the start of Armenia’s post-Soviet history of troubled elections, the number one source of political tensions.
Constitutional reform was one of the conditions for Armenia’s accession to the Council of Europe in January 2001. A package of amendments drafted by Kocharian was already put to a referendum in May 2003 but failed to win sufficient popular support.
Kocharian and his governing coalition have since revised those amendments and plan to hold another referendum this fall. They agreed last week to embrace key Council of Europe recommendations that call for more significant curbs on the presidential powers.
A senior representative of the Strasbourg-based organization, Roland Wegener, said on Tuesday that their passage is vital for the democratization of Armenia’s political system and urged the Armenian opposition to endorse the reform. He also said he was reassured by Kocharian that the authorities will do their best to win over the largely indifferent electorate.
“The authorities are helping us,” countered Manukian. “They have not publicized any drafts and are not doing any propaganda … On top of that, we have allied parties which will be with us on the issue.”
The HHSh leader referred in particular to the Hanrapetutyun party, Armenia’s most radical opposition group. Its leaders have repeatedly spoken out against any cooperation with Kocharian on constitutional reform.