Vote 2013: PAP for “technical” president to carry out constitutional reform

The second-largest parliamentary party, Prosperous Armenia (PAP), has provided an ideological basis for the consolidation of the country’s opposition by proposing transition to a parliamentary system of government in 2017. In that case, according to the party, the 2013 election will be all about choosing a “technical” president to carry out this constitutional reform.

In the May elections to the National Assembly about 40 percent of seats in the legislative body were taken by either openly oppositional or so-called “alternative”, like PAP, parties and forces.

Ahead of the February 2013 presidential ballot the most pressing question for the opposition is again fielding a single candidate who will supposedly have a greater chance of unseating the incumbent head of state, Serzh Sargsyan, who is the leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA). Sargsyan’s party has already stated its intention to nominate him for reelection and from among possible opposition candidates only the leader of the Heritage party, Raffi Hovannisian, has so far clearly expressed his intention to contest the 2013 election. Other forces, including the main opposition Armenian National Congress, have not been in a rush to present their final decisions on the format of their participation in the forthcoming race.

Experts, meanwhile, have noted an apparent lack of a cohesive ideological basis for consolidation within the field opposed to the incumbent president. Now, it appears, there is such a basis with the idea of a parliamentary republic. And although Hovannisian and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF Dashnaktsutyun) have long been advocating a transition to a parliamentary form of government, which would mean curtailed powers of the president and more authority to the National Assembly in forming the government and making the policy, the latest suggestion voiced by PAP parliamentary faction secretary Naira Zohrabyan indirectly means that the candidacy for this “technical” president will be offered exactly by PAP. Ex-Foreign Minister and current senior PAP member Vartan Oskanian, who is currently under prosecution on alleged money-laundering charges, which he and his party say are “politically motivated”, is likely to become such a candidate.

Some Armenian media, however, immediately began to speculate about the possibility of Sargsyan becoming such a candidate for a “technical” president if he agrees with the idea of switching to a parliamentary system of government. That could theoretically open up opportunities for Sargsyan to stay in power as the leader of a majority party even after serving out his second and last term as president in 2013-2018.

However, RPA spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov has already rejected this idea out of hand, calling it “politically short-sighted” and suggesting that “figures standing behind such statements simply wish to come to power.” “The true faces of real players will be revealed shortly,” the RPA spokesman said in what could be a veiled reference to the second president of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, who is believed to be the godfather of PAP.

Meanwhile, “political consultations” have started among various opposition groups of Armenia. Aram Manukyan, secretary of the Armenian National Congress’s (ANC) parliamentary faction, said that consolidation of political forces around specific ideas is important, but that they suggested the idea of regime change and curbing emigration. “We have a strong candidate, who is convinced that he is able to deal with these challenges. This candidate is [ANC leader] Levon Ter-Petrosyan,” he said. Manukyan added, however, that the ANC will discuss PAP’s proposal.

Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun Bureau member, MP Vahan Hovhannisyan, meanwhile, reminded that his party has always advocated the idea of switching to an all-proportional system of representation in the National Assembly and a parliamentary form of government. “One can only welcome PAP’s coming to the same conviction. Naturally, consultations with them around this issue are possible,” said Hovhannisyan.

Vice-Chairman of the Heritage Party Armen Martirosyan also stressed that they treat the proposal normally. “Especially that we ourselves have repeatedly spoken in favor of this reform and even came up with a relevant legislative initiative during the last session of parliament,” said Martirosyan, adding that if PAP turned to them for consultations, there would be “no problems”.

With this new “consolidating” idea floated in the Armenian political domain, further events may develop in two possible scenarios producing opposite effects.

First: the idea of switching to the parliamentary system of government is emphatically rejected by President Sargsyan and opposition consolidation begins around this platform, with Heritage’s Hovannisian and PAP’s Oskanian likely to fight for becoming the single candidate.

Second: despite the early reaction by his party’s spokesman, Sargsyan still embraces the idea and becomes its vocal supporter, thereby neutralizing the ideological basis of the opposition, possibly to face easier reelection and a chance of extending his rule further due to this proposed reform.