By Karine Kalantarian
Artashes Geghamian, an outspoken Armenian opposition leader, vowed Wednesday to step up his campaign for President Robert Kocharian’s ouster, abandoning his skepticism about opposition efforts to force a referendum of confidence in the head of state.
Geghamian said he believes that such a vote, suggested by Armenia’s Constitutional Court last April, would lead to Kocharian’s resignation and pre-term presidential and parliamentary elections. “We don’t see any way of regime change other than what I say,” he told a news conference at the head office of his National Unity Party.
The remarks represent yet another shift in Geghamian’s political attitudes. The National Unity leader and his allies had earlier repeatedly voiced skepticism at the rival opposition Artarutyun bloc’s attempts to push corresponding amendments to the Armenian law on referendum through the Kocharian-controlled parliament. They instead favored collection of signatures of ordinary Armenians in support of the idea.
Geghamian now looks buoyed by the issue’s unexpected inclusion on the parliament agenda earlier this month after the National Assembly majority was apparently tricked by Artarutyun lawmakers. The parliament leadership pledged afterwards to indefinitely delay debate on the proposed amendments that would pave the way for the referendum.
Geghamian said the debate must take place by February and threatened to rally tens of thousands of supporters outside the parliament building in Yerevan. “The bill must be discussed by the National Assembly whether or not they like it,” he said.
National Unity conspicuously avoided any participation in a campaign of mass demonstrations staged by Artarutyun earlier this year against reported fraud in the presidential and parliamentary elections. Geghamian argued until now that street protests are counterproductive.
The idea of a referendum of confidence has repeatedly been rejected as unconstitutional by Kocharian and his allies. They said the current Armenian legislature will never call such a vote.
Relations between Armenia’s two main opposition groups have been strained since the February 19 first round of the presidential ballot, official results of which showed Geghamian trailing Kocharian and Artarutyun leader Stepan Demirchian. Geghamian pointedly refused to endorse Demirchian for the March 5 run-off vote and was later accused by Artarutyun of secretly collaborating with the ruling regime.