Karabakh president proposes major constitutional change as political crisis deepens

In picture (from right) former presidents of Karabakh Bako Sahakyan, Arkadi Ghukasyan, current president Arayik Harutyunyan and the state minister Ruben Vardanyan.

By Mark Dovich

Karabakh President Arayik Harutyunyan issued a proposal Monday to change the constitution to allow the legislature to appoint a new president if the office is vacated, a sign of the region’s deepening domestic political crisis.

Harutyunyan’s proposal must be approved by Karabakh’s National Assembly, where his Free Motherland party and its allies hold the majority of seats. His office said Monday that the proposal had already been submitted to lawmakers for their consideration.

Karabakh’s domestic politics has been in a state of deepening crisis since Harutyunyan’s appointment last November of billionaire businessman and philanthropist Ruben Vardanyan as state minister, a post roughly akin to prime minister.

As part of the deal, Harutyunyan granted Vardanyan significantly broader powers than had been given to previous state ministers, with Vardanyan given oversight of nearly all government ministries.

WIthin a month, Vardanyan had reached an agreement with Harutyunyan to dismiss the vast majority of Karabakh’s ministers. The only agencies whose leadership emerged unscathed were the Defense and Interior Ministries and the National Security Service — the only major bodies that Vardanyan does not preside over.

Since then, the two officials have been allegedly engaged in a struggle for influence in Karabakh, with Vardanyan’s profile growing as Harutyunyan’s wanes.

“Over time, (Vardanyan’s) political influence has been growing, lots of people who had been loyal to Harutyunyan have moved toward Vardanyan. I’m talking about influential business people, people with political clout,” regional analyst Tigran Grigoryan told CivilNet Monday.

The struggle for influence between the two officials has allegedly gotten so severe that rumors have been spreading in Karabakh for weeks about Harutyunyan’s possible resignation.

Grigoryan told CivilNet he sees Harutyunyan’s proposal to allow lawmakers to appoint presidents as part of that struggle for influence.

“It’s part of the struggle between Harutyunyan and Vardanyan, but at this point, we don’t have much information to judge what is Harutyunyan’s actual rationale,” Grigoryan said. “He might actually resign, he might resign and try to elect someone who is controlled by him, or he could just surrender and let the parliament elect a new president without his interference.”

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockade of Karabakh entered its third month Sunday.

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