Raffi Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party refused on Thursday to hold more talks with President Serzh Sarkisian, reaffirming its strong opposition to sweeping constitutional changes planned by him.
Sarkisian offered to meet Zharangutyun leaders this week as part of his final consultations with major Armenian parties on a controversial constitutional reform initiated by him.
Zharangutyun decided to turn down the invitation at a meeting of its governing board in Yerevan. “We took into account the fact that our proposals made at the previous meeting [with Sarkisian] were not accepted and that the existing [constitutional] draft is not acceptable to us,” the party’s deputy chairman, Armen Martirosian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“Mr. Hovannisian is aware of our decision,” he said. “He took part in the board discussion by using modern means of telecommunication.”
Zharangutyun’s U.S.-born chairman is reportedly in the United States at the moment.
Zharangutyun and another major opposition party, the Armenian National Congress (HAK), have said all along that the draft amendments envisaging Armenia’s transition to a parliamentary system of government are aimed at enabling Sarkisian to extend his rule beyond 2018. Both parties have pledged to campaign against their adoption at a nationwide referendum expected in November.
Several other opposition parties represented in parliament, notably Prosperous Armenia, have also expressed concern at the proposed reform. However, they now seem ready to endorse it in return for government concessions. Their leaders held separate meetings with Sarkisian on Wednesday and Thursday.
The constitutional changes are also opposed by Armenian civic activists critical of the government and not affiliated with any parties. Some of them formed last month a pressure group called You Won’t Pass It, pledging to try to scuttle Sarkisian’s initiative with rallies and other acts of “civil disobedience.” They expressed readiness to join forces with the HAK and Zharangutyun.
You Won’t Pass It announced on Thursday that it will launch fundraising campaigns in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora in an effort to step up its activities. The group said it needs money for renting meeting halls, printing banners and leaflets and other logistical needs.
You Won’t Pass It leaders made clear that they will not accept donations from any party. “If we get funding from a party or an individual pursuing political goals we will become dependent on them,” one of them said. “But raising funds from the public for logistical purposes will only create more public trust in us.”