Armenia: Opposition Calls for a Coalition to Fight Sargsyan’s Constitutional Changes

On 21st of August President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan sent to parliament the project of the new constitution of Armenia.

After the parliament approve the project the date of a national referendum will be announced and the citizens will decide by voting whether or not they wish to continue living in a semi-presidential system or instead choose a Parliamentary system.

According to the press release of the President's Administration, Sargsyan will be holding a new round of consultations with the political forces of Armenia. 

According to the new constitution project, the leader of the state will become the speaker of the parliament, the strong presidential post will be removed, and the president will be elected only once, for a 7-year term- not in national elections, as it has been since the independence of Armenia in 1991 but by Electors, who will be heads of communities in Armenia.

Four out of six political forces of Armenian parliament strongly criticize the new project. According to whom it is aimed at prolonging the power of Serzh Sargsyan, who, according to the current constitution, can't ran for a third presidential term.

Opponents further claim this project is an attempt at a coup against the constitution, which is aimed to keep the power in the hands of the current president after his last presidential term expires in 2018.

They further claim that the ruling republican party is trying to constitutionally force its rule in the country. Political experts claim that if the project is passed in the referendum, the leader of the ruling party will control the country even while holding no official post.

The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe also criticized the new constitution project, particularly the article according to which if no party is able to pass the 40% threshold, a second round will take place between the two parties that received most votes in the first round after which the party winning the second round is attributed 54% of the seats.

The remaining seats are allocated to the other parties in a proportional manner, according to the results of the first round.

The Venice Commission also strongly criticized another article of the project which states that in special cases the life of a person can be subordinated in special conditions, and another article which forbids the possibility of same sex marriages.

Among the critics of the new constitutional project are the two former presidents of Armenia.

The main opposition force of the country, the Armenian National Congress (ANC) lead by the first President of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosian (1991-1998), in its statement states that by changing the constitution, Sargsyan plans to become parliament speaker after completing his last presidential term in 2018.

ANC further said that constitutional changes drafted by a presidential commission would make the speaker the country’s most powerful official capable of controlling the government through a loyal majority in the National Assembly.

ANC also called to form a broad coalition to fight against the change of constitution.

The second president of Armenia, Robert Kocharian, also finds the constitutional changes unnecessary. In his article, Kocharian wrote that: "The country needs cardinal changes, but this is not about constitutional changes".

Polls conducted by public opinion research center APR group show that 81% of respondents are against the constitutional changes.

A civic initiative group "No Passaran" formed to oppose the constitutional changes is threatening to start an anti-governmental campaign from September in order not to let the government falsify the constitutional referendum and "conduct a Coup d'état against the state and constitution."

Karen Tovmasyan

24 August 2015 14:38