Opposition parties in Armenia see a hidden agenda in the government plans to change the constitutional requirements concerning the eligibility of nominees in presidential elections.
Their representatives do not exclude that thus President Serzh Sarkisian and his political allies may be trying to meet the election needs of certain individuals in their quest for retaining power beyond the next national elections scheduled for 2017 and 2018.
Earlier this week, senior ruling Republican Party lawmaker and member of the president-appointed Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) David Harutiunian confirmed that the package of proposals sent to the Commission from the presidential administration also concerned the current norms under which an eligible presidential candidate must be a citizen and permanent resident of the country for at least 10 years preceding his or her nomination.
He denied, however, that the proposed reform was tailored to any specific election needs, saying that it rather stemmed from the recommendations of the Venice Commission and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) concerning reforms of Armenia’s Election Code made two years ago.
The CRC member did not exclude that the 10-year permanent residence and citizenship requirements will be reduced as a result of the constitutional reform to be carried out in the next few years.
Raffi Hovannisian, leader of the opposition Heritage party, who had twice been barred from running in Armenian presidential elections based on the mentioned requirements before meeting the eligibility criteria for his bid last February, still called into question the rationale of carrying out the change at this time.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Hovannisian said that he did not exclude that by means of this reform the current administration sought to solve the problem of retaining power.
“I do not rule out that it may concern concrete individuals. But I think that if a legitimate government had the will to make this change, it could have done it 15 or 10 years ago. But they saved it till this moment and this may be aimed at specific individuals depending on how they see the configuration of power in the future,” the oppositionist said.
The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) also believes that the Sarkisian administration has launched the current constitutional reforms not to have a more democratic basic law, but to stay in power.
Spokesman Arman Musinian said that the references to international bodies in making the changes are just a “smokescreen for criminal intentions”.
“The reason is very clear – Serzh Sarkisian sees his existence [in politics] only in the case of the reproduction of power, realizing well that he has made so many destructive, criminal steps that he needs to secure his future, and the best guarantee of that is to stay in power as long as possible,” said the HAK representative.
Naira Zohrabian, a lawmaker with the Prosperous Armenia Party that boasts the second largest faction in the Armenian parliament but is not part of the governing coalition, would not be drawn into speculations about the reasons behind the move by the authorities. Yet, she called it wrong to change the 10-year citizenship and permanent residence requirements in Armenia considering the current “external and internal challenges” facing the nation.
According to the lawmaker, the CRC first should present the grounds for the reform.
“One should not again adjust the Constitution to the needs of one individual or another, which has happened before. This tradition of reshaping the Constitution to cater for someone’s needs is not an appropriate approach for a country that wants to be a democracy,” Zohrabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Under the presidential decree issued in early September, the CRC is to come up with a “concept” of the reform by next April. It will have ten months to draft specific constitutional amendments after that concept is approved by the head of state.