Council of Europe Encourages Citizens to Support Proposed Constitutional Reforms

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The top decision-making body of the Council of Europe urged Armenia’s on Monday to vote for constitutional amendmen’s at next month’s referendum–saying that they are "vital" for Armenia’s democratic future.

"The referendum–to be held on November 27 on this reform–will be vital for Armenia," Diogo Freitas do Amaral–Portugal’s foreign minister and the chairman of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers–said in a statement.

"By turning out to vote–the people of Armenia will indeed be deciding on changes of fundamental importance for their future," he said–adding that the proposed changes would shore up Armenia’s weak judiciary and create a "more balanced distribution of power between the executive and the legislative branches."

Amaral emphasized that the reforms have been endorsed by the Venice Commission–the Council of Europe’s advisory body on legal reform which has been actively involved in the Armenian process. The head of the commission–Gianni Buquicchio–called for a "yes" vote at the referendum during a recent visit to Yerevan.

The European Union and the United States have also expressed support for the draft amendmen’s. Western officials say that as well as curbing sweeping powers vested in the Armenian presidency–the proposed reform would facilitate Armenia’s integration into pan-European structures.

A similar statement was adopted on Monday at a conference of an organization representing various-level Armenian judges.

"The constitutional draft is close to being a perfect legal document," stated the chairman of the Union of Judges–Hovannes Manukian.

Armenia’s leading opposition groups–meanwhile–remain adamant in rejecting the amendmen’s as insignificant and irrelevant to the country’s democratization. In a joint statement last month–17 opposition parties said their enactment would only "legitimize the regime and prolong its life." They pledged to work together in trying to scuttle the referendum.

But the opposition leaders disagree on whether they should urge Armenia’s to boycott the referendum or vote against the draft amendmen’s.

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