Outspoken opposition leader Nikol Pashinian has refused to engage in a “substantive” debate regarding the constitutional amendments initiated by the current administration, calling on fellow oppositionists “not to get into the constitutional trap”.
Pashinian, who is a leading member of the recently established Civic Contract party, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that he shared the approach, in particular, advocated by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) that he was affiliated with only a few years ago that the constitutional reform process pursued by President Serzh Sarkisian should be used for regime change. However, he disagrees with the views that it is the constitutional amendments that will primarily ensure Sarkisian’s continued stay in power. Pashinian sees no problem with the Sarkisian government’s “reproduction” even under the current Constitution.
“The 1995 Constitution did not prevent Robert Kocharian from committing a coup d’etat… and did not prevent the October 27, 1999 parliamentary shootings. Another Constitution [amendments passed in 2005] did not prevent the deadly suppression of post-election demonstrations in 2008 and did not prevent Sarkisian and his criminal gang from plundering Armenia for years. And the next one will not prevent all those things either,” Pashinian charged.
“What we say is as follows: as long as there is no force that would catch Sarkisian and his criminal gang by the hand, he will do whatever he wants regardless of the text of the Constitution.”
The HAK and another major parliamentary opposition party, Heritage, believe that the proposed changes to the Constitution under which Armenia will be turned into a parliamentary republic with a largely ceremonial president is an attempt by President Serzh Sarkisian, whom the current Armenian Constitution bars from seeking a third presidential term, to remain in power in some other capacity after completing his tenure in 2018.
And while Sarkisian himself has publicly pledged not to seek a top government post if the Constitution is amended, the two parties still have signaled their intention to try to scuttle the constitutional reform with street protests.
But Pashinian has spoken out against such an approach, insisting that it has been ineffective during the past two decades. Only an institutional opposition with a clear program and proxies at all polling stations in Armenia can prevent the current regime from reproducing itself, the oppositionist said.
“This means that consolidated forces agree on who will be their government ministers and the prime minister [if they come to power]. Because other methods, such as when we say, let’s oust these ones and then it will become clear, haven’t worked for 20 years. Rallies and ‘excursions’ through the center of Yerevan… we won’t take part in these processes,” said Pashinian, who was one of the active street campaigners during the HAK’s 2008 post-election rallies.
“If there is a real program by which we can implement the change of power, then, of course, we are ready to do everything for this, because we believe that we have no right to miss any opportunity to get rid of the criminal regime of Serzh Sarkisian,” Pashinian added.
The 40-year-old oppositionist played a major role in former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s 2007-2008 opposition movement that nearly scuttled a handover of power from outgoing President Kocharian to then Prime Minister Sarkisian.
Like dozens of other oppositionists, Pashinian went into hiding following the deadly suppression of Ter-Petrosian’s street protests held in the wake of a disputed February 2008 presidential election. He subsequently surrendered to law-enforcement bodies and spent about two years in prison on controversial charges.
Pashinian, who is popular with many opposition supporters for his tough anti-government rhetoric, in 2012 fell out with Ter-Petrosian and the HAK that was established by the latter and on whose list he was elected to the National Assembly earlier that year. Eventually, Pashinian set up his own political party.
Pashinian acknowledged that as one of the opposition figures he was also partly responsible for today’s situation in Armenia in which “no opposition force can consolidate the people.”
“There is a well-known expression that clever people learn from others’ mistakes, but fools learn from their own mistakes. I’d add that it is even more stupid not to learn even from your own mistakes,” he said.
In his earlier statements Pashinian also made it clear that the primary objective of the Civic Contract party will be the next parliamentary elections due in May 2017. He said his party will strive to set up a nationwide network of branches so that it can deploy proxies at all 1,800 polling stations across Armenia on election days to prevent vote rigging.