President Serzh Sarkisian formally approved on Friday a package of draft constitutional amendments that envisage Armenia’s transition to a parliamentary system of government fiercely resisted by some opposition groups.
Sarkisian sent the draft to the National Assembly for approval just hours after receiving it from an ad hoc commission that was formed by him two years ago to work on a far-reaching constitutional reform.
The final version of the proposed changes in the Armenian constitution is virtually identical with the draft amendments that were publicized by the commission last month. Some of them were criticized by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.
In particular, legal experts from the Venice Commission objected to one of the proposed amendments meant to ensure that parliamentary elections in Armenia always produce a clear winner controlling the majority of parliament seats. They also criticized several other provisions relating to the appointment and removal of senior judges.
The final constitutional package made public on Friday shows that Sarkisian’s commission has essentially rejected these objections. A member of the commission, former Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) earlier in the day that Council of Europe experts will visit Yerevan early next week for further talks on the issue with Armenian officials and civil society members.
A statement by Sarkisian’s press office said the head of state instructed the presidential body to “continue the dialogue” with the Venice Commission on these sticking points.
The statement also announced that Sarkisian will hold next week final consultations with political parties that support his constitutional reform or at least have not rejected it out of hand. Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), said late on Thursday that the consultations will start by the end of this month.
The long list of draft amendments will be debated and almost certainly endorsed by the Armenian parliament next month. They will be put on a referendum later this autumn.
At least two major opposition parties, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Zharangutyun (Heritage), have pledged to turn the referendum into a popular vote of no confidence in Sarkisian. They insist that the constitutional reform is aimed at enabling Sarkisian to stay in power after he completes his second and final presidential term in 2018. Accordingly, the HAK and Zharangutyun have made clear that they will boycott the president’s upcoming consultations.
Another major opposition party, Prosperous Armenia (BHK), has also been against the country’s transformation into a parliamentary republic. The BHK has softened its opposition to the reform lately, however. One of its senior figures, Mikael Melkumian, on Friday spoke of unspecified “positive” changes made in the constitutional package.
Only one opposition party represented in the parliament, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), supports the changes sought by Sarkisian. Its leaders say that the parliamentary system would decentralize power in Armenia and thereby facilitate the country’s democratization.