President Serzh Sarkisian appears to have delayed a key decision in the controversial process of constitutional reform initiated by him, citing the need for “additional discussions” with Armenia’s main political groups.
Sarkisian received on Wednesday a detailed “concept” of the reform from an ad hoc constitutional commission which he set up a year ago. He was expected to discuss it with major parties and decide later this year whether the commission should start drafting concrete amendments to the Armenian constitution on the basis of its recommendations.
Sarkisian’s press secretary, Arman Saghatelian, said on Friday that the decision will not be made before next February. “Given that some issues discussed in the concept have a pronounced political component, additional political discussions and a greater political consolidation are expected in connection with them,” Saghatelian told tert.am.
“Therefore, in all likelihood the Armenian president’s final decision regarding the concept will be known in February or March 2015,” he said.
Saghatelian praised the commission headed by Constitutional Court Chairman Gagik Harutiunian for its “large-scale and fundamental” work. He also stressed the fact that its concept has been approved by legal experts from the Council of Europe.
In its reform framework submitted to the head of state, the commission called for Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic led by a powerful prime minister. It said that this would lead to a “clearer separation” of government branches.
Three leading Armenian opposition parties are categorically against the reform. They say that Sarkisian is keen to curtail presidential powers because he wants to stay in government in another capacity after completing his second and final term in 2018.
Rallying thousands of supporters in Yerevan on October 10, the Prosperous Armenia (BHK), Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Zharangutyun parties said that Sarkisian must abandon the planned reform and negotiate a “handover of power” to the opposition. The opposition trio is due to hold another anti-government rally on October 24.
Some of its leaders were buoyed by the announcement of Sarkisian’s apparent decision to slow down the reform process. They claimed that the Armenian leader of scared of further street protests against his rule.
“It is evident that this delay, this tactical retreat is the result of popular pressure,” the HAK’s Levon Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Serzh Sarkisian has avoided marking the beginning of his reproduction. He has delayed it at least until March,” he said.
Zurabian insisted that the HAK, the BHK and Zharangutyun will continue campaigning for “regime change” even if Sarkisian gives up the reform drive altogether. “As for what steps we will take now, that will be decided after discussions,” he said.