A major opposition party headed by Armenia’s former President Levon Ter-Petrosian on Thursday condemned sweeping constitutional changes drafted by a state commission and vowed to do “everything” to scuttle their passage in a referendum expected in the coming months.
Levon Zurabian, the deputy chairman of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK), reaffirmed the party’s view that the constitutional reform is aimed at indefinitely extending President Serzh Sarkisian’s rule, rather than democratizing Armenia’s political system. He described as “disgraceful” a package of draft amendments to the Armenian constitution that was publicized on Wednesday by a presidential commission working on the reform.
The proposed amendments envisage Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic with a largely ceremonial president not elected by popular vote. One of them stipulates that parliamentary elections in the country must go into a second round if they produce no clear winner of most seats in the parliament.
That run-off vote would be between the two parties or blocs that garnered most votes. Some critics of the Sarkisian administration say this means that only two parties, including the ruling Republican Party (HHK), would be represented in Armenia’s next parliaments.
“This document completely confirms what we have warned of before: Serzh Sarkisian is carrying out this constitutional reform with the sole aim of prolonging his rule,” said Zurabian. “He wants to get around the constitutional ban on his third term in office.”
“Serzh Sarkisian sees himself, after a transition to the parliamentary republic, as speaker of the National Assembly,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “That post, coupled with the post of Republican Party chairman, would allow him to retain the main power levers.”
“We will do everything to turn this constitutional referendum into a vote of no confidence in Serzh Sarkisian and his regime,” he said. “We will launch a movement because no people deserve to have a single individual’s will imposed on them.”
It is not clear whether the HAK plans to launch a campaign of anti-government street protests after the constitutional referendum due later this year or early next. Ter-Petrosian’s party urged disgruntled Armenians in March to use the constitutional reform for “ousting the current regime from power.”
The HAK’s view on the issue is fully or partly shared by at least two other opposition parties represented in the current parliament: Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Zharangutyun (Heritage). Zharangutyun is currently in disarray because of serious disagreements within its leadership, while the BHK was dramatically weakened by the recent resignation of its leader, Gagik Tsarukian.
The current BHK leader, Naira Zohrabian, said that the party has not yet formulated an official position on the publicized draft amendments. “But the first impression is that this proposed package contains many risks,” she said.
Zohrabian singled out the two-round parliamentary election sought by Sarkisian’s commission. She said this highly unusual arrangement could cement one-party rule in Armenia.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), another parliamentary opposition party, supports a switch to the parliamentary form of governance. But it was in no rush to officially react to the draft amendments on Thursday. A party source said the Dashnaktsutyun leadership has not yet discussed them.
Zurabian last month accused Dashnaktsutyun of helping Sarkisian to stay in power after he completes his second presidential term in 2018. Dashnaktsutyun representatives rejected the accusation.