YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—President Serzh Sarkissian has assured critics of his controversial constitutional reform plans that he will not seek top positions in the executive and legislative branches of government if Armenia decides to move toward a parliamentary system.
Sarkissian, whose second and final presidential term ends in 2018, already stated over a year ago that he will not seek the position of prime minister if the change takes place.
His political opponents have dismissed those assurances, saying that he would most likely become the speaker of parliament and continue to control the government. Sarkissian reportedly ruled out such a possibility at a meeting late on Thursday of the governing body of his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
“Today the president made it clear to skeptics that he definitely means the post of National Assembly chairman as well,” Davit Harutiunian, chief of the Armenian government staff and a senior HHK member, told reporters after the meeting.
Hrayr Tovmasian, a member of the presidential commission drafting the proposed constitutional amendments, confirmed this on Friday.
Tovmasian said that it would be impossible for Sarkissian to become speaker of parliament. He said that the president will complete his second five-year term almost a year after Armenia’s next parliamentary elections in May 2017.
Both Tovmasian and Harutiunian dismissed opposition claims that the key aim of the planned constitutional changes are to enable Sarkissian to prolong his rule without lifting the existing constitutional ban on a third presidential term. They said that the HHK is in a position to stay in power even under the existing constitution, which gives sweeping powers to the head of state.
Harutiunian, who is also a member of the presidential commission, claimed that a transition to a parliamentary republic would facilitate an eventual “peaceful regime change” in Armenia.
“And a peaceful regime change must not create dangers for the country,” he said. “This is the main idea which we are advancing with these reforms.”
“Nobody is saying that the Republican Party will win elections and stay in power for the next 100 years,” agreed Tovmasian. He said the parliamentary system would make it harder for authorities to rig elections.