By Karine Kalantarian
The chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court back-pedaled Friday on its post-election call for a “referendum of confidence” in President Robert Kocharian, saying that the idea no longer carries the same urgency.
Gagik Harutiunian, who faced a storm of government criticism for effectively questioning the legitimacy of Kocharian’s reelection, argued that political tensions in Armenia have eased since the court’s April ruling on an opposition appeal against the official results of this year’s presidential election. “Our proposal has lost its urgency both in terms of its form and content,” he told reporters on the sidelines of an international conference on human rights.
The Constitutional Court’s politically explosive ruling was announced on April 16 in the wake of the disputed presidential run-off tainted with reports of vote rigging. The court’s nine justices ruled that Kocharian’s main challenger, Stepan Demirchian, failed to prove that the irregularities affected its outcome.
They at the same suggested that the authorities defuse the resulting “public confrontation” by calling a nationwide vote of confidence in Kocharian. The move was a strong boost to Demirchian’s fraud allegations which had already been given weight by Western election observers.
Kocharian and his political allies reacted furiously to the referendum idea, accusing Armenia’s highest court of overstepping its legally defined powers. In a related move, a presidential body overseeing Armenia’s judiciary rejected a Constitutional Court demand to punish those judges who jailed hundreds of opposition supporters for their participation in a campaign of anti-Kocharian demonstrations. And Armenian prosecutors publicly defied a separate court order to track down and punish perpetrators of the fraud.
The ruling regime’s fury with the verdict was underlined on Friday by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian. “The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Armenia has no authority to make such decisions. By the same logic, the National Assembly could have passed a law relating to [the African state of] Burkina Faso,” Baghdasarian told a news conference, deriding the referendum call.
The Armenian opposition, meanwhile, continues to use it in its drive to undermine the Kocharian administration’s legitimacy both at home and in the international stage. Demirchian’s Artarutyun (Justice) alliance moved last week to force a parliament debate on its proposed amendments to Armenia’s law on referendum that would pave the way for such a vote. But with the current legislature dominated by Kocharian loyalists, the initiative has no chances of success and is largely aimed at shoring up public support for the opposition cause.
Artarutyun will also cite the Constitutional Court ruling in its planned appeal to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights to annul the results of both the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Another major opposition force, the National Unity Party intends to start collecting citizens’ signatures in support of the referendum of confidence. Its leader, Artashes Geghamian, has pledged to secure over a million signatures.