- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 May 30, 2003 

Referendum Chika: Voters say "no" to president's constitutional changes

The President's representative in Parliament, Armen Harutyunyan, says reforms were aimed at distributing power.

Constitutional changes proposed by President Robert Kocharyan failed to gain voter approval in Sunday's referendum.

According to the preliminary information the issue failed by 563,205 to 555,663. In order for a referendum to pass, it must get at least two-thirds of the vote. About 778,000 would have been required in Sunday's vote.

The CEC missed by 12 hours its legal deadline requiring that preliminary results be published. Its next constitutionally-ordered deadline is tomorrow. Voter turnout was the lowest (51 percent) in the history of independent Armenia, yet the CEC is saying that it has been overwhelmed with trying to count all the votes from various territories.

Kocharyan himself has said it would be difficult for him to get the votes required to see the constitutional changes.

Chief among the proposed reform was changes that many interpret as a means of expanding the President's powers.

Kocharyan, however, has said all along that the amendments would curtail his sweeping constitutional powers and strengthen the legislature and the government. The president, for example, would be allowed to dissolve the parliament only in the event of its "inactivity," and not at will as is the case now.

Many voters have said they did not participate in the referendum because they were not aware of the proposals.

"Those were not constitutional changes presented at the referendum but changes already made in the constitution and ordinary people likely cannot understand what has been changed," says political scientist and expert on constitutional rights Vardan Poghosyan.

Former Speaker of the National Assembly Babken Ararktsyan, a member of the (oppositional) Armenian National Movement said there was no reason for the proposed changes except that Kocharyan simply wanted "to have his own Constitution".

"This draft strengthens president's positions to the extent that he gets not just immunity but superimmunity vested with superpowers and all possibilities of evading liability," said Ararktsyan.

However, Kocharyan's representative in the National Assembly, Armen Harutyunyan, insists on the contrary.

"I'm surprised with the points of view concerning the increase of presidential powers," he says. "One of the achievements of the draft constitution is that all three branches of the government are balanced."

According to the current constitution, the president has a right to appoint the Chief Prosecutor and discharge him or her if proposed by the Prime Minister. According to the proposed version, the president could appoint and discharge the Chief Prosecutor by his own wish.

And in exchange for canceling his exceptional right to disband the National Assembly, Kocharyan's proposals would give the president the power to discharge Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense in case those ministers were presented by the National Assembly and appointed by the Prime Minister.

"By these changes the government's role can be reduced to zero," Poghosyan says.

Also at issue in the referendum was dual citizenship.

According to the new draft constitution, the ban on double citizenship is cancelled. The ANC, the controlling party when the Constitution was adopted in 1995, opposes dual citizenship.

"If citizens of Armenia get double citizenship then they will prefer to serve in the army of other countries and several years later Armenia won't have any army," said a statement in ANC's propaganda.

Harutyunyan counters: "A country that has such a great Diaspora, at least psychologically, cannot have a constitution which bans double citizenship," adding that dual citizenship in no way threatens national security.

Information for this report was also gathered from

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