By Nane Atshemian and Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s second largest opposition group will formulate its position on President Robert Kocharian’s revised constitutional amendments only after they are examined and evaluated by a key Council of Europe body, its leader said over the weekend.
Artashes Geghamian indicated that his National Unity Party (AMK) will endorse the proposed amendments to Armenia’s constitution if the Venice Commission finds them acceptable.
The Venice Commission has been looking into the constitutional draft submitted by Yerevan earlier this month and is due to release its opinion by July 20. The commission, which advises the Council of Europe on constitutional law, will rule whether the Armenian authorities are honoring their pledge to try to enact more significant changes seen as vital for the country’s democratization.
“If they [the Venice Commission] stand by their position, then things will follow a course very favorable for our people,” Geghamian told RFE/RL. “That is, the [amendments to the] constitution will mark one step forward in the strengthening of democracy.”
“If the authorities defy Strasbourg and if the Venice Commission appeals to the Armenian opposition, and the National Unity Party in particular, we will help the Venice Commission make their opinion more weighty here in Armenia,” he said.
Geghamian’s main opposition partner, the Artarutyun (Justice) alliance, has already rejected the changes sent to Strasbourg, saying that they are insufficient. Artarutyun leaders said on Friday that they will campaign for the rejection of Kocharian’s constitutional reform at a referendum later this year unless the authorities make three major changes in their package.
Those include limiting the Armenian president’s authority to dissolve parliament and appoint judges and ensuring that Yerevan’s future mayors are directly elected by the city residents. Kocharian and his governing coalition would like the mayor to be chosen by an elected municipal council -- a stance reaffirmed on Monday by the Armenian capital’s current presidentially appointed mayor, Yervand Zakharian.
The Artarutyun demands were brushed aside by a high-level representative of the ruling coalition, deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian. “I think that the opposition is putting itself in an increasingly ridiculous position by declaring itself the supreme judge and dictating terms to the authorities,” he told RFE/RL. “That is a nonsense.”
“I am convinced that there are sensible people in the opposition that will say ‘yes’ after seeing the Venice Commission’s conclusion,” Torosian said, adding that he believes that conclusion will be “positive.”
By contrast, Artarutyun’s stance on the issue is considered too soft by at least one of the nine parties making up the opposition alliance. The Hanrapetutyun party insists that it will not cooperate with the “illegitimate” ruling regime under any circumstances.
One of its leaders, Suren Sureniants, warned on Monday that Hanrapetutyun could leave the bloc if the latter decides to support the constitutional reform. “If the difference in approaches again manifests itself soon we won’t rule out any solutions, including a pullout from the bloc,” he told RFE/RL. “No political figure must have illusions that the constitution can be reformed by a regime that has set many examples of how constitutional provisions are breached, how people’s votes are stolen, and how power is usurped.”
(Photolur photo: Artashes Geghamian.)