By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s largest opposition alliance listed on Friday three conditions for its crucial support of President Robert Kocharian’s draft constitutional amendments and warned that failure to accept them would scuttle the reform demanded by the Council of Europe.
The Artarutyun (Justice) bloc said the authorities should make additional changes in their constitutional package that would give more powers to parliament, strengthen the judiciary and ensure that the future mayors of Yerevan are directly elected by the city residents. Its leadership said in a statement that the revised amendments submitted to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission last week fail to meet these demands.
The amendments were sent to Strasbourg in accordance with an agreement signed last month by senior officials from the Armenian government and the Venice Commission. The latter is currently examining them and is due to deliver its opinion by July 20.
The changes stemming from that agreement include stripping the Armenian president of his discretionary powers to sack the prime minister, to appoint the chairman of the Justice Council, a body selecting judges, and to name the Yerevan mayor. The authorities would like the mayor to be chosen by an elected municipal council.
Artarutyun wants Kocharian and his governing coalition to drop a controversial amendment that would empower the head of state to dissolve the parliament if his prime ministerial candidate is twice rejected by lawmakers. The opposition alliance is also demanding more powers for the Justice Council, including a right to appoint judges not liked by the president.
Opposition support is essential for the passage of the proposed constitutional changes at a referendum expected this November. Under Armenian law, they need the backing of at least one third of Armenia’s 2.4 million eligible voters. The Artarutyun statement warned that failure to accept the opposition demands would “deepen public distrust in the process of constitutional reform.”
“If they reject our demands, we will urge the people to say ‘no’ to the amendments,” said Grigor Harutiunian, a senior Artarutyun member.
Representatives of the governing coalition say further changes in the constitutional draft are possible but they primarily depend on the Venice Commission’s opinion. They have also warned that the opposition will risk Western condemnation if it chooses to campaign against the reform.
Meanwhile, there are growing divisions within Artarutyun itself. The most radical of the nine parties making up the alliance, Hanrapetutyun (Republic), remains opposed to any compromise with the “illegitimate” authorities. “We continue to believe that they have no mandate to carry out reforms,” said a senior Hanrapetutyun member, Smbat Ayvazian.