Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Constitutional Ammendments Decisive For Armenia’s Future

In what is still the biggest political test of the year, RFE/RL reports that the Council of Europe has expressed in no uncertain terms that constitutional ammendments scheduled for November are vital for the democratization of Armenia.
“I proceed from the assumption that the referendum will be positive, and that is what we base our expectations and our further policy on,” Ambassador Roland Wegener, a German diplomat representing the Council’s governing Committee of Ministers, said at the end of a fact-finding visit to Yerevan.
Initially, however, the Armenian government was resistant to opposition demands that three key issues should be included in the proposed ammendments. And, although the government's supporters at home and abroad did their best to discredit the need for their inclusion, the Council of Europe also considers that they are necessary.
Those amendments would considerably curtail President Robert Kocharian’s sweeping powers to appoint and sack the government as well as judges at will. They would also make the mayor of Yerevan, home of at least one third of Armenia’s population, an elected official.

Under a memorandum signed with the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission in Strasbourg on Friday, the Kocharian administration has to incorporate those changes into its constitutional draft. The draft is due to be debated and finally approved by parliament in August before being put to a referendum this fall.
This marks yet another significant U-turn by the Armenian Government. As the opposition paper, Chorrord Ishkhanutyun, points out -- and as quoted by RFE/RL's Press Review -- it wasn't so long ago that the Armenian President was adamant that he would not bend to pressure from the CE.
“The problem is a fairly complicated one because Kocharian had said before that the Council of Europe is not a Politburo for us. And there is now a need to explain why the most combat-ready president of the region has meekly accepted all of the Council of Europe proposals.”
Regardless, it probably doesn't matter. What does matter, however, is that for now at least, the Armenian government is starting to alter its policies as a result of pressure from elements within society as well as international bodies. This can probably be seen in the light of recent democratic changes in Georgia and Ukraine and is certainly a welcome step towards democratic development in the country.

RFE/RL's full report can be read online here.

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