YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia’s President Serzh Sarkisian has given his general political endorsement to a constitutional reform that seeks to turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic despite still having “concerns” about the country’s “external and internal security” and “stability of the government system.”
In his remarks at a meeting with members of a specialized commission engaged in drafting the constitutional amendments Sarkisian described their concept as “progressive” and said that the changes will open “new opportunities for democratic development in Armenia”.
But he also presented some concerns that he said will have to be addressed in drafting the text of the amendments proper.
On Thursday, the Armenian president held a series of meetings with top members of the country’s leading parliamentary and extra-parliamentary parties most of which had earlier expressed their opposition to the reform.
Only one parliamentary opposition party, Armenian National Congress (HAK), whose representatives did not meet with the president as part of the consultations, refused to engage in any sort of discussions regarding the matter.
The HAK led by former president Levon Ter-Petrosian appears to be strongly in favor of the current presidential form of government, while the constitutional reform concept unveiled last year implies that Armenia will become a parliamentary republic with a powerful prime minister and a largely ceremonial president.
The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission gave a mostly positive assessment to the draft concept last year, but noted that the transition to a parliamentary republic requires “broad consensus within society.”
Earlier, a number of leading opposition parties expressed concern that the constitutional reform is, in fact, a means for Sarkisian and his ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) to extend their political power for years ahead.
Sarkisian, however, has pledged not to seek a top government post after he leaves his current office in 2018, but as leader of the ruling party he is certain to remain influential in Armenian politics even without a formal government position.
Meeting with members of the specialized commission on constitutional amendments that was set up by his order back in 2013, President Sarkisian presented his opinion on the concept submitted to him last year.
“Of course, the arguments of the specialized commission on the transition to the parliamentary system of government are substantial. Moreover, the Venice Commission also considers that the parliamentary system of government can strengthen democracy in Armenia. At the same time, the consultations conducted with political forces show that there are no, nor objectively can be, unambiguously matching approaches: there are both those who speak for and against the system, there are also forces that consider their participation in this process to be important for their final decision, and the number of such forces is by far larger,” Sarkisian said, as quoted by his press office.
“Still, I have to be honest and say that the objective prerequisites underlying my position in favor of the current system of government that I expressed before have not significantly changed. I still have concerns that are related to your professional approach to the change of the government system.
“To be more specific, I still have no clear idea on how the proposed model will unconditionally guarantee the two most important components: the country’s external and internal security and stability of the government system, which, in my opinion, is ensured in conditions of the current model.”
Sarkisian referred to the concerns regarding the stability of the government system that the experts themselves expressed in the concept.
“Nevertheless, I will give political approval to the concept because I believe that we must use every opportunity to ensure a positive development for our state, especially that during my meetings no political party had any objection to the approval of the concept. At the same time, I ask you to draft such constitutional regulations that will unquestionably ensure the harmonious combination of a more democratic model of governance with the security and stability of the state,” President Sarkisian said.
The head of state further stressed that in preparing the text of the constitutional changes it is necessary to develop an “effective format for professional discussions with representatives of political parties”.
Sarkisian also emphasized that it is important that at all stages of the process there should be feedback from and “section-by-section, chapter-by-chapter discussions” with all political forces.
“A new, more complex and at the same time more responsible stage of the work begins. I am confident that within months we will have a document with clear approaches and solutions,” the President concluded.