President Serzh Sarkisian has rejected opposition criticism of his plans to amend Armenia’s constitution and pledged to press ahead with a “radical reform of our political system.”
Addressing senior members of his ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) at the weekend, Sarkisian said at the same that he will seek to muster multi-partisan support for constitutional amendments that are being drafted by an ad hoc presidential commission.
Sarkisian said that the commission formed a year ago will present to him a final “concept” of the reform by October 15. “The submission of the concept should be followed by the start of broad consultations with both political forces represented in the parliament and extraparliamentary forces aimed at reaching necessary agreements on constitutional reforms. We clearly realize that the constitutional reforms require broad-based support because an efficient constitution can only be the result of public consensus,” he told the HHK’s governing body.
A preliminary version of the reform concept publicized by the commission in April calls for curtailing sweeping powers enjoyed by the Armenian president and strengthening the government and parliament. The commission headed by Constitutional Court chairman Gagik Harutiunian also proposed a “possible alternative” whereby Armenia would officially become a parliamentary republic with a powerful prime minister and a largely ceremonial head of state.
Sarkisian’s political opponents, notably the Armenian National Congress (HAK), say that the real aim of the reform is to enable him to stay in power in another capacity after he completes his second and final presidential term in 2018. The opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest parliamentary force, has also spoken out against amending the constitution, saying that the authorities should deal with other, more pressing problems facing the country.
Sarkisian said on Saturday the opposition has failed to come up with convincing arguments against the reform. “They are only saying that now is not the time [for making changes in the constitution. But why?” he complained in televised remarks.
The Armenian constitution can only be amended through referendums. Harutiunian said earlier this year that the authorities will most probably hold a referendum on the planned amendments in early 2016 at the latest.
Some sources close to the constitutional commission suggest that Sarkisian will refrain from putting them to the vote if he fails to secure the backing of other major parties and the BHK in particular.
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, the top leader of the opposition HAK, claimed in July that the BHK is under growing government pressure to throw its weight behind the reform. Ter-Petrosian also said that Sarkisian will face massive protests and have to quit if he presses ahead with the constitutional changes. The ruling HHK shrugged off those claims.