By Shakeh Avoyan
Opposition leader Stepan Demirchian urged supporters Wednesday to vote against amendments to Armenia’s constitution proposed by President Robert Kocharian as he campaigned in the northern Tavush province with other leaders of his Artarutyun (Justice) alliance.
Demirchian avoided any detailed analysis of the draft amendments, saying instead that Kocharian lacks the popular mandate to initiate any changes in the country’s basic law.
“To begin with, it is inadmissible to violate the constitution,” he said in the local town of Dilijan. “He who violates the constitution has no moral right to change it.”
The trip to the area was part of the opposition bloc’s preparations for the May 25 parliamentary elections and constitutional referendum, which Demirchian described as a “third round” of the disputed presidential election. The recent vote remains a major theme of the Artarutyun leaders’ discourse. Demirchian and his opposition allies view the parliamentary race as a continuation of their efforts to oust Kocharian whose reelection they refuse to recognize.
Demirchian said the opposition feels vindicated by the Constitutional Court’s recent ruling on his appeal against the official election results. “Even the Constitutional Court has set the record straight,” he said. “It indirectly told [Kocharian] that he was not elected.”
The Constitutional Court refused to annul the results of the March 5 run-off vote that pitted Kocharian against Demirchian. But it at the same time urged the authorities to hold a “referendum of confidence” in Kocharian within a year, effectively giving weight to the opposition allegations of massive vote rigging. The Armenian president and other top government officials have angrily rejected the call.
The legislative package put on the referendum would change more than 80 percent of the articles of Armenia’s constitution enacted in 1995 under then President Levon Ter-Petrosian. Kocharian says the draft amendments would curtail his sweeping powers and strengthen the judicial and legislative branches of government. The opposition, however, claims that he would only gain more powers.
Demirchian’s meetings in Tavush seemed to arouse less popular excitement than his better-than-expected presidential campaign. Many local residents said they are losing faith in elections as a way of making their life better due to the chronic vote irregularities. As one woman in Dilijan put it: “We will vote after all, but we are very, very tired.”