Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian said on Wednesday that his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party will avoid any further dialogue with President Serzh Sarkisian on his controversial plans to make sweeping changes in Armenia’s constitution.
Hovannisian said that although Zharangutyun stands for the parliamentary system of governance it believes that Sarkisian “lacks the legitimacy” to expedite such a transition as part of the planned constitutional reform. He also argued that the Armenian authorities will not accept a number of specific conditions set by the opposition party.
Those include the conduct of snap parliamentary elections immediately after a referendum on the constitutional amendments. Zharangutyun wants those elections to be held only on a party-list basis, something which Armenian opposition forces say would reduce the likelihood of vote rigging. It is also demanding other anti-fraud safeguards that were rejected by the Sarkisian administration until now.
“Judging from [statements by] the constitutional reform commission and Serzh Sarkisian, it is already evident that this will not happen,” Hovannisian told reporters. “Therefore, I declare that from now on we will not take part in these meaningless games.”
Zharangutyun strongly opposed the reform when it was part of an anti-government alliance formed with two other opposition parties, Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and the Armenian National Congress (HAK). It appeared to have softened this stance following last month’s collapse of that alliance resulting from a government crackdown on the BHK.
Two senior Zharangutyun figures, Armen Martirosian and Ruben Hakobian, were among opposition politicians who held separate meetings with Sarkisian earlier this month to discuss the constitutional changes. The decision was strongly condemned by another member of the party’s governing board, Zaruhi Postanjian.
Hovannisian, who was not in Armenia when the talks with Sarkisian took place, sought to downplay the row. While admitting that he did not authorize the talks, he said that Martirosian was allowed to make such a decision in his capacity as Zharangutyun’s deputy chairman.
“I personally would not have gone to that meeting. But I was aware of the possibility of such a meeting,” added Hovannisian.