Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 75

Newly elected President Robert Kocharian is reaffirming his campaign promise to initiate major changes to the constitution. The latest statements of the president and his spokesmen suggest that dozens of amendments may be proposed to a special commission, which is due to convene in the coming days and draft the amendments. Some of the proposed changes include: introduction of dual citizenship, allowing diaspora Armenians to receive Armenian citizenship in addition to that of their adoptive country; giving the parliament the prerogative to dissolve itself, instead of confining that prerogative to the president; and amending constitutional articles that bear on the operation of the multiparty system.

Kocharian and most political forces seek an appropriate procedure for dissolving the existing parliament in order to hold parliamentary elections this year, instead of waiting until its term expires in 1999. Most parties consider that the 1995 elections that produced this parliament were rigged by the then-ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (APNM); and that the parliament’s present composition–despite recent realignments within it–is even less representative of the current political spectrum in society. This view is shared by four (out of five) parties of the Unity and Justice bloc, which supported Kocharian’s presidential candidacy; by Parvir Hairikian’s Self-Determination Union, which made a deal with Kocharian for the runoff; by Vazgen Manukian’s National-Democratic Union, the main opposition party; and by Sergei Badalian’s Communist party. Most of these parties are only minimally or not at all represented in parliament and seem anxious to increase their representation.

However, the Yerkrapah [Paramilitary Volunteer] Union, currently the single largest parliamentary party and a mainstay of the Unity of Justice bloc, opposes pre-term parliamentary elections. Yerkrapah’s parliamentary group ballooned thanks to defections from the APNM in February when then President Levon Ter-Petrosian was forced out of office. Behind Yerkrapah stand the politically powerful Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and the security apparatus. The issue of pre-term parliamentary elections pits Yerkrapah (and by implication the military establishment) against the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaksutiun, the second most influential pro-Kocharian force, which had been banned by Ter-Petrosian and hopes to carry considerable weight in a newly elected parliament.

In what is seen as a harbinger of its dissolution, the parliament has begun debating drafts of new electoral laws, including a law on legislative elections which has been drafted by the democratic reformer Eduard Yeghorian. The parliament is thereby heeding the recommendations of the OSCE and other international monitoring bodies, which have called for fundamental improvements in Armenia’s electoral legislation. Parliament Chairman Hozrov Harutiunian, a Kocharian loyalist, suggests that the parliament may dissolve itself after enacting the electoral legislation in order to make room for a new parliament. (Noyan-Tapan, April 17-18)