The draft amendment announced late on Monday would empower the Karabakh parliament to elect an interim president in case of Harutiunian’s resignation. The president would serve for the rest of his five-year term in office which ends in 2025.
Under the unrecognized republic’s existing constitution, Harutiunian’s resignation would lead to the automatic dissolution of the parliament and the conduct of fresh presidential and parliamentary elections. Most local political actors agree that Azerbaijan, which has been blocking Karabakh’s land link with Armenia for the last two months, could thwart such polls.
Harutiunian’s spokeswoman, Lusine Avanesian, said that the constitutional change was proposed in view of “geopolitical regional developments” and “external and internal political challenges” facing Karabakh. She told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the Karabakh leader has no plans to resign.
Karabakh and Armenian opposition figures as well as some Yerevan-based media outlets speculated, however, that Harutiunian drafted the amendment under pressure from Armenia’s government. They said Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian wants to install a new Karabakh president who would be completely loyal to him.
Vahram Atanesian, a Karabakh pundit and former politician, disagreed, saying that Pashinian’s relationship with Harutiunian is not strained. Atanesian also argued that Pashinian would have trouble getting Karabakh legislators to elect a president handpicked by him because Harutiunian’s party does not control the majority of parliament seats.
Harutiunian’s initiative came amid reports of a rift between him and the Karabakh premier, Ruben Vardanyan, connected with the blockade.
Harutiunian reportedly tried to sack Vardanyan and force snap presidential and parliamentary elections last month. Vardanyan publicly made clear that he will not step down.
Opposition leaders claimed at the time that Pashinian pressured Harutiunian to replace the holder of the second-highest post in Karabakh’s leadership and thereby facilitate far-reaching concessions to Azerbaijan. The Armenian government did not officially comment on those allegations. But some Pashinian allies and supporters criticized Vardanyan, implying that his exit is necessary for ending the Azerbaijani blockade.