YEREVAN—The Commission on Armenia’s Constitutional Reforms, which is headed by President Serge Sarkisian, released the final version of the draft amendments to the constitution on Aug. 21. The draft amendments meet 90-95 percent of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s (ARF) expectations, ARF parliamentary faction secretary Aghvan Vardanyan told reporters on Aug. 24, when he, along with ARF Bureau member and head of the party’s political affairs Armen Rustamyan, gave a press conference.
According to Vardanyan, the draft amendments incorporate some 79 fundamental and priority proposals of the ARF. Around 20 other proposals will be submitted soon, he said.
“We will do everything so that through the referendum, the people will accept our amendments,” Vardanyan was quoted as saying by Yerkir Media. He added that through these reforms, Armenia will be able to move in a new direction, and that he is certain that the constitutional reforms will help solve some of the existing problems in the country.
On Aug. 18, Vardanyan had said that representatives of the party would be meeting with President Sarkisian to discuss the draft of the new constitution.
“We submitted substantial proposals to the Commission on Constitutional Reforms and have discussed those proposals with the commission. I believe a discussion with the Armenian president will also take place soon,” Vardanyan told Panorama.am when asked about the ARF’s stance on the draft amendments.
The ARF has called for a transition to a parliamentary system of government in Armenia. Under the new system, Armenia would work with a 101-seat parliament with a 5-year term elected entirely by proportional representation. Under the current system of government, there are 131 members of parliament; 41 elected in first-past-the-post constituencies and the rest by proportional representation.
According to Eduard Sharmazanov, spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), Sarkisian will hold final consultations with political parties that have not rejected the constitutional reforms package.
It is expected that Sarkisian will send the draft amendments to parliament following the consultation. There, the amendments will be debated by the RPA-majority National Assembly. It is expected that they will be put to a referendum sometime in November.
ARF representatives first met with Sarkisian in early May to discuss the party’s proposal on constitutional reforms. Speaking to reporters in Yerevan on March 12, Arstvik Minasyan, the deputy of the ARF faction of the National Assembly of Armenia, had said he was confident the president would accept the ARF’s proposal. Sarkisian gave his approval to the Concept Paper on Constitutional Amendments tendered by the Specialized Commission for Constitutional Amendments on May 14.
Opposition to the Reforms
Several of Armenia’s opposition parties have publicly criticized government officials for ignoring the recommendations of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe advisory body. Armenia’s RFE/RL service Azatutyun.am reported that the body called for the removal of a controversial provision on the so-called “second round” in parliamentary elections from the draft amendments.
According to media reports, representatives from the Venice Commission will visit Yerevan to discuss the amendments with government officials and members of civil society.
Meanwhile, the Heritage Party’s deputy chair, Armen Martirosyan, has said that the amendments to the constitution are an attempt to extend the power of the two-term president. “There is a clear desire on the part of these authorities to ensure a guaranteed reproduction of power with Serge Sarkisian at its head. And that would only be possible if there is a ‘stable majority’ in parliament, which is contrary to the spirit of parliamentarianism,” he told Azatutyun.am.
Aram Manukyan, secretary of the opposition Armenian National Congress (ANC), in a press conference on Aug. 21 said that his party would not participate in discussions on the reforms. Instead, the ANC will be visiting cities and towns across the country with a message to citizens that the submitted document is “unconstitutional.” Manukyan added that the ANC intends to cooperate with all political forces that oppose the reforms.