Armenia NA Approves Constitutional Amendmen’s

YEREVAN (Armenpress–RFE/RL)–The Armenian parliament approved on Wednesday a package of constitutional amendmen’s drawn up by President Kocharian–paving the way for a nationwide referendum on the changes next month–simultaneously with the May 25 parliamentary elections.

The proposed changes–that would curtail some of the president’s constitutional powers–were endorsed by 77 members of the 131-strong National Assembly at the end of a two-day debate. Thirteen deputies mainly affiliated with opposition factions voted against. Other opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote.

A representative of the president Armen Harutunian–said the new changes foresee some cardinal amendmen’s to the country’s basic law.

The main emphasis–he revealed–is on counterbalancing relations between the different branches of power by creating constraining mechanisms.

Several clauses on the range of authority to be granted to president became a topic of heated debates. Harutunian said the new option limits a portion of the president’s executive power–but increases the power of legislatures. Proposed changes would also reduce the number of current 131 parliament seats to 101–and the number of permanent committees from 6 to 9.

President Kocharian is also pushing for the abolition of a constitutional provision banning dual citizenship–with the order and mechanism for granting dual citizenship to expatriates to be elaborated on by next parliament. The proposed reforms would also remove the death penalty.

Another proposed change would establish that the Republic of Armenia recognizes the utmost value of basic human rights and freedoms as its integral part. Changes also cover the relationship between state and the Church–recognizing the latter’s exceptional historical role in the spiritual life of the nation.

Kocharian hailed the outcome "The success of constitutional reform is extremely important for our country in terms of both domestic and external developmen’s," he said.

Several pro-presidential factions of the assembly voted for the draft despite their strong objections to some of its provisions. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF)–for example–criticized the presidential administration for not fully accepting its proposal to strip parliamentarians of their constitutional immunity from prosecution.

The current constitution stipulates that deputies can not be prosecuted or arrested without the parliament’s consent. Kocharian agreed to scrap this immunity only for purely criminal cases.

"It’s no secret that the constitutional provision on the immunity is often the main reason why many are tempted to become deputies," said Armen Rustamian–the ARF block’s parliamentary leader.

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