YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—President Serzh Sarkisian wants to curtail sweeping constitutional powers enjoyed by him but has yet to decide whether Armenia must be transformed into a parliamentary republic, one of his political allies said on Tuesday.
Sarkisian’s plans to enact corresponding amendments to the Armenian constitution were high on the agenda of his meeting last week with Vazgen Manukian, the chairman of the Public Council, and other members of body advising him on domestic and foreign policies.
“As a system, the parliamentary republic is better,” Manukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I don’t doubt it. I’m just not sure this is the right time for such a transition.”
Manukian said he and the other Public Council figures communicated these concerns to Sarkisian. “The president said that nothing is definitive yet, discussions [on constitutional reform] are still going on and we should wait and see what they lead to,” he revealed.
“He made the following point: if the country is to be democratic and normal there has to be a redistribution of powers, a balance between the parliament speaker, the prime minister and the president, and Armenia should not become a monarchy where everybody pins their hopes only on the president,” added the veteran politician who had served as Armenia’s first post-Communist prime minister in 1990-1991.
Sarkisian made similar arguments when he set up last year an ad hoc commission tasked with drafting constitutional amendments. The commission headed by Constitutional Court Chairman Gagik Harutiunian presented a preliminary version of a reform “concept” in April.
The 45-page document does not seem to give preference to a radical change of the existing government system that vests sweeping powers in the presidency. But it does call for reducing the presidential authority and increasing the role of Armenia’s government and the parliament.
The commission also proposed a “possible alternative” whereby Armenia would officially become a parliamentary republic with a powerful prime minister and a largely ceremonial head of state. In that case, the president would be elected by the parliament for a seven-year term. Sarkisian has stated that should this proposed model be put on a referendum and backed by most voters he will not seek to become prime minister after completing his second and final presidential term in 2018.
Sarkisian’s radical political opponents have dismissed these assurances, saying that the real aim of the planned reform is to enable him to remain in power for many more years. One of them, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, claimed last week that Sarkisian will face massive protests and have to quit if he presses ahead with the sweeping constitutional changes. The ruling Republican Party of Armenia shrugged off Ter-Petrosian’s claims.
Manukian likewise described those claims as “nonsense,” saying that constitutional reform is not the kind of issue that can cause Armenians to take to the streets in large numbers. “There is quite a lot of discontent in Armenia but it cannot be escalated by constitutional changes,” he said.