By Karine Kalantarian, Anna Saghabalian and Nane Atshemian
Artashes Geghamian, the outspoken leader of one of Armenia’s two main opposition groups, set on Friday his conditions for endorsing constitutional changes drafted by President Robert Kocharian and his leading political allies.
Geghamian said his National Unity Party (AMK) will urge supporters to vote for the proposed amendment at a referendum in November if the authorities pledge to call fresh parliamentary and presidential elections in case of its positive outcome. He said the constitutional reform should be followed by the election of a new Armenian parliament that would form a government which would in turn hold a “free, fair and transparent” presidential ballot.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Geghamian argued that this would enable Kocharian and his ruling coalition to disprove opposition claims that democratic elections in Armenia are impossible as long as they remain in power. “The authorities would thus get a chance to reassure the people that they are reforming the constitution in good faith,” he said. “If this proposal is not accepted, it will become obvious to the people that the parties making up the coalition are at least insincere when they speak about the constitutional reform being fateful for the country.”
The authorities are unlikely to accept Geghamian’s conditions, however. Speaking in the National Assembly earlier in the day, deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian assured fellow pro-government lawmakers that the constitutional amendments, if they are approved by voters, will not entail fresh elections. He said the authorities would need time to organize legislative and presidential elections meeting “all international standards” in 2007 and 2008 respectively.
Torosian also effectively rejected conditions set by the Artarutyun bloc, the other opposition force represented in the parliament. Artarutyun demands that the ruling regime give more powers to the National Assembly, make Armenian courts less dependent on the president and guarantee direct elections of Yerevan’s future mayors. Torosian claimed that the existing constitutional draft, which has been endorsed by the Council of Europe, already addresses most opposition concerns.
The draft is expected to be debated and approved by the Kocharian-controlled legislature in the final reading next week. Deputies representing Artarutyun and the AMK will suspend their 18-month boycott of the parliament to attend the session. Their anticipated rejection of the proposed amendments would seriously complicate Kocharian’s efforts to win sufficient voter support for the reform.
Kocharian signaled on Wednesday that he will go to great lengths to enact the amendments which the Council of Europe says are necessary for Armenia’s democratization and European integration. Still, his chief constitutional lawyer, Armen Harutiunian, said on Friday that the authorities will not seek to secure a “yes” vote at any cost.
“It won’t be a catastrophe if this constitution is not adopted,” Harutiunian told representatives of two dozen governmental organizations supportive of the Armenian leader. He said the failure of the effort would hurt the entire country, rather than its leadership.
(Photolur photo: Artashes Geghamian.)