YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian parliament on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to pass a government-drafted amendment which local politicians and pundits believe paves the way for a popular referendum on a compromise solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The draft amendment to Armenia’s law on referendums was submitted to the National Assembly and debated under an urgent procedure shortly after President Serzh Sarkisian reportedly pledged not to sign any peace accords with Azerbaijan without securing their approval by voters. It allows the government to hold non-binding plebiscites on any policy issue.
The holding of referendums has until now been the prerogative of the parliament and the president of the republic. The Armenian state authorities are obliged to abide by their results.
Only seven deputies of the 131-member legislature voted against the amendment in the first reading. All but one of them represent the opposition Heritage party that has condemned it as unconstitutional. Heritage leaders regard the measure as a prelude to what they see as unacceptable Armenian territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.
The government and its parliamentary majority have dismisses the opposition claims, while declining to rule out of the conduct of a Karabakh-related referendum in Armenia in the coming months. “There are no dangers here,” said Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of the governing Republican Party of Armenia. “There are only attempts to exploit the issue.”
Stepan Grigorian, defended the adopted amendment, saying that it gives the Armenian side more room for maneuver in the peace talks with Azerbaijan. He said Yerevan could use a popular vote for rejecting concessions to Azerbaijan that might be sought by international mediators. “If there is international pressure [on Armenia,] it is possible that the authorities will use the referendum factor,” Grigorian said.