Agence France Presse -- English October 14, 2005 Friday 3:32 AM GMT Armenia faces key referendum on boosting parliament's powers by Mariam Kharutyunyan YEREVAN Armenia will hold a referendum on November 27 on constitutional changes that would strengthen the Caucasus nation's parliament, but which have failed to win round opponents of President Robert Kocharian. Reforming the constitution has moved up the agenda of this ex-Soviet Caucasus republic since a 2003 referendum failed to gain the required number of votes to endorse reforms, leading the 46-nation Council of Europe, a democracy-promoting body, to threaten symbolic sanctions. "Fulfilling this obligation is important for our country," analyst Alexander Iskandaryan said. "The existing constitution, which was accepted in 1995, is now obsolete and needs to be amended for the country's political development. Otherwise we will stand still." For the reforms to be approved, at least half of those who vote must give their approval and the "yes" votes must equal at least a third of eligible voters. The package, which was approved by parliament on September 28, would limit the president's powers, boost the role of parliament and the cabinet and would also strengthen the independence of the judiciary. It also aims to strengthen human rights protection. Under the reformed constitution, "parliament would at any time be able to vote no confidence in the government, ordinary citizens could address the constitutional court, and parliament would appoint a human rights ombudsman," parliament speaker Tigran Torosyan said. "The parliament is becoming the strongest branch, which is natural for countries seeking major reforms," he said. Kocharian has resoundingly endorsed the reform package. "This is undoubtedly a high quality document," he said earlier. But this view is not unanimously shared. >From February 2004 until recently the opposition had boycotted parliament, angered at what it saw as abuses by Kocharian. It only returned at the urging of the Council of Europe, which has been involved in drafting the reform package. The opposition declined to vote on the reforms, objecting that the president would still have the right to dissolve parliament if it blocked government-backed legislation over a two-month period. The opposition also objects that the constitution leaves in place the president's immunity from prosecution, both during and after his term in office. "The president should know he will answer for violations of the law, both during his rule and afterwards," said Viktor Dallakyan, a leader of the Justice opposition bloc. Following popular uprisings in three other ex-Soviet republics -- Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan -- the opposition sees in the referendum a chance to boost its standing and push out Kocharian's leadership, Dallakyan said. "If this project does not go through, it will be the authorities' political death," Dallakyan said. However analysts doubt that the opposition can really win mass support. "It may be that the opposition will not let this chance pass and will destabilise the situation, but it will not be able to manage a revolution... there is no basis for it in the country and the opposition lacks the forces to do it," Iskandaryan said. Baku residents questioned by AFP had mixed views, but underlined their dissatisfaction with the present situation. "I do not yet know what changes there are, but I will vote for it because European experts have worked on it. It can't be worse than the present constitution," Mkhitar, a 60-year-old street vendor, told AFP. Arus Mnatsakanyan, a 46-year-old mother of three, said she doubted the changes would have much effect. "It is not what is written in the law that matters, it's how it is implemented," she said.