Former President Robert Kocharian on Tuesday reaffirmed his strong opposition to sweeping constitutional changes sought by President Serzh Sarkisian, saying that they would indefinitely keep the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) in power “regardless of its popularity.”
“The publicized draft surpassed my worst expectations,” Kocharian told his unofficial website, 2rd.am, commenting on a long list of draft amendments that were approved by the Armenian parliament on Monday.
The amendments envisage the country’s transformation into a parliamentary republic led by a powerful prime minister chosen by the parliamentary majority. The president of the republic would have largely ceremonial powers and would no longer be elected by popular vote after Sarkisian completes his second term in office in 2018.
“The constitutional draft carries substantial risks that the country will slide into a de facto one-party system,” claimed Kocharian. He singled out an “absolutely unacceptable” amendment stipulating that parliamentary elections in Armenia must always result in a “stable majority” in the National Assembly.
This could require a second round of voting between the two top election contenders. The winner of the run-off would gain an absolute majority of parliament seats.
Opposition parties rejecting the constitutional reform say this unusual arrangement is aimed at making it easier for Sarkisian’s HHK to retain control over the parliament in the next general elections due in 2017. The presidential camp insists, however, that it is needed for preventing political instability in the country.
Kocharian drew parallels between this proposed electoral system and an infamous Soviet constitutional clause that upheld the supremacy of the Communist Party. “Given the absence of even the slightest hints of intra-partisan democracy in Armenia, governance based on favoritism would become an inevitable and enduring evil, a source of stagnation and a tool for reproducing the vicious system,” he said.
The HHK was quick to dismiss Kocharian’s claims. The ruling party spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, implied that the ex-president himself helped to create Armenia’s existing political system during his 1998-2008 rule.
“When was that vicious system created?” Sharmazanov told reporters. “Today or years ago? What are its root causes?”
“Secondly, if the system is indeed vicious, then how are we going to fight against its reproduction? By changing nothing?” he said.
“From the human standpoint, it is totally understandable when a person finds it very difficult to give up something which he had created,” added Sharmazanov.
Armenian observers believe that the switch to the parliamentary system of the government would further complicate Kocharian’s possible to return to power in the future. The ex-president has not ruled out the possibility of such a comeback as he has increasingly criticized the Sarkisian administration in recent years. Many expected him to try to stage it through the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of businessman Gagik Tsarukian.
Tsarukian was forced by Sarkisian to resign as BHK leader and quit politics altogether in March after threatening to scuttle the constitutional reform with massive anti-government demonstrations. His exit was widely construed as a major blow to Kocharian’s political future.