By Karine Kalantarian
Risking a serious rift with his allies, opposition leader Aram Sarkisian said Tuesday that his Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party will not end its boycott of parliament even if the Armenian authorities accept Council of Europe recommendations on constitutional reform.
Sarkisian said the authorities routinely break laws and a reformed constitution would therefore do little to foster Armenia’s democratization. “They don’t care if they violate good or bad laws,” he told RFE/RL in an interview.
Sarkisian’s uncompromising stance is increasingly at odds with the more conciliatory approach of other parties making up Armenia’s largest opposition alliance, Artarutyun (Justice). The bloc declared earlier this year that it will stop boycotting parliament sessions and will even cooperate with the authorities on the issue if they embrace serious constitutional amendments suggested by the Council of Europe.
Those amendments would give more powers to the Armenian parliament, restrict President Robert Kocharian’s authority to appoint and sack judges and make the mayor of Yerevan an elected official. Kocharian and his governing coalition initially opposed them but after facing strong criticism from Strasbourg agreed late last month to incorporate them into their constitutional package.
The authorities are due to send the revised package to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission by Thursday. The commission will then pass judgment by July 20. Shavarsh Kocharian, a leading Artarutyun member, said the opposition stands by its conditional pledge to end the boycott and is awaiting the final version of the draft amendments.
But Sarkisian made it clear that he and two other parliament deputies from Hanrapetutyun, Armenia’s most radical opposition group, will continue the boycott in any case. He cited critics’ arguments that the Council of Europe’s emphasis on the passage of new laws, rather than the enforcement of existing legislation, has hardly made Armenia more democratic.
Sarkisian also argued that Shavarsh Kocharian himself was one of the authors of a controversial law on broadcasting which the authorities used for closing Armenia’s sole TV stations not controlled by them three years ago. “Shavarsh Kocharian was saying at the time that it is a wonderful law that will promote free media,” he said. “But after the law’s passage they closed A1+ and Noyan Tapan. I never quite understood whether the law or those who implement it are bad.”
“The same problem exists with respect to constitutional changes,” added the former prime minister. “I believe that those changes are fruitless because there needs to be political will to implement any law. These authorities are a vivid example of how laws can be violated.”