YEREVAN–(RFE/RL)–Opposition leaders suspended their 18-month boycott of parliament on Monday as it began final debates on draft amendmen’s to Armenia’s constitution that are due to be put to a referendum in November. Their approval by the majority of lawmakers is almost certain.
The debates were broadcast live on national television on Monday–featuring only two of the 39 deputies registered to address the parliament–suggesting the proceedings could take at least two more days.
The session began with an angry dispute between the parliament leadership and some opposition lawmakers over procedural matters. Speaker Artur Baghdasarian told them they were hampering discussions by raising insignificant issues–and emphasized the proposed reforms enjoy the backing of the Council of Europe and in particular its advisory body on constitutional law–the Venice Commission.
The commission’s Italian secretary–Gianni Buquicchio–did not make it to Yerevan to address the parliament and urge Armenia’s to vote for the proposed amendmen’s. According to the head of the Council of Europe office in Armenia–Bojana Urumova–he simply missed a connecting flight to Yerevan at the weekend.
"The Venice Commission believes in this text and supports it fully," Urumova told the parliament–speaking on behalf of Buquicchio.
The constitutional reform is also supported by the European Union and the United States. "The United States supports the efforts of all those who have been involved in the process of attempting to amend the current Armenian Constitution–and encourages all parties to engage in responsible and constructive debate on this issue," US Ambassador to Armenia John Evans said in a statement published by Yerevan newspapers on Saturday.
"In our view the current package represents a notable step forward–but its approval is of course a matter for the voters of the Republic of Armenia to decide," Evans added.