On March 17, Armenian President Robert Kocharian signed a decree suspending the August 18, 1999 resolution of then prime minister Vazgen Sarkisian, who was slain two months later. That resolution, concerning the rules of appointing and dismissing state officials, concerns primarily the senior ranks of the Defense, the Internal Affairs and the National Security Ministries, and confers on the prime minister the main authority in that regard, at the expense of the president. Kocharian’s decree determined that the resolution in question violates several articles of the constitution, including those on presidential powers. It ordered Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian to change the terms of that resolution so as to bring it into accord with the constitution.
It is a telling comment on the state of constitutional processes in Armenia that the president should on his own authority pronounce an act as violating the constitution and proceed to void it, even if that act almost certainly had encroached on Kocharian’s presidential powers to begin with, reflecting the omnipotence of then Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian. The president’s decision to invalidate that act must come as an affront to the late strongman’s clan, which maintains a posthumous cult of Vazgen Sarkisian’s personality. His brother and successor as prime minister, Aram Sarkisian, has already expressed consternation over Kocharian’s decree.
The president began implementing his decree by replacing one deputy minister of internal affairs and almost certainly holding more appointments to the Internal Affairs and the National Security Ministries up his sleeve. Last week, Kocharian had issued a decree conferring on himself the exclusive power to appoint, dismiss and cashier Army generals, and proceeded to reshuffle the Defense Ministry brass (see the Monitor, March 16-17).
The president’s rivals seem thrown off balance by Kocharian’s initiatives. The legal staff of the ruling Unity [Miasnutiun] bloc in parliament has prepared a brief which declares Kocharian’s decisions unconstitutional. The pro-Russian Defense Minister, Lieutenant-General Vagharshak Harutiunian, spent two extra days in Moscow after the March 16 meeting of the CIS countries’ Defense Ministers. Russia and the Sarkisian government are almost certainly pondering a common response to Kocharian’s surprise initiatives (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Armenpress, Respublika Armeniya, March 18-20).
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