By Emil Danielyan
A new opinion poll suggests that most residents of Yerevan are still unaware of amendments to the Armenian constitution sought by their government and would not bother to vote if those were put to a referendum last Sunday.
Vox Populi, a private polling organization, said that only 13 percent of 624 city residents randomly interviewed last week would definitely take part in the referendum. Another 16 percent said they would likely do so, according to the survey made public at the weekend.
The reported figures are essentially identical with the findings of two other polls which Vox Populi conducted in Yerevan, home to at least one third of the country’s population, in April and October. They should be cause for serious concern for the Armenian authorities that are facing growing pressure from the Council of Europe to amend the much criticized post-Soviet constitution.
The authorities pledged late last month to add three key amendments, demanded by the Strasbourg-based organization, to the constitutional package which was drafted by President Robert Kocharian and his governing coalition and is due to be put to a referendum this fall.
A senior Council of Europe official, Roland Wegener, said last week their passage is critical for Armenia’s democratization and European integration. He also said he was reassured by Kocharian that the authorities will do their best to drum up public support for the reform.
To pass, the amendments must be approved by a majority of those taking party in the referendum. Under Armenian law, that majority must make up at least one third of all eligible voters. A high voter turnout will therefore be essential for the success of the effort.
The Vox Populi poll suggests that Kocharian’s pledge to accept the Council of Europe recommendations has so far had little impact on the popular apathy. Besides, it shows that only one in five Yerevan residents is aware of the essence of the proposed constitutional changes.
The lack of public awareness is likely to be more serious in the regions outside the Armenian capital that are less exposed to the national electronic and print media. On the other hand, provincial residents have traditionally been more susceptible to the so-called “administrative resources” used by the government for ensuring desired outcomes of elections at various levels.
The apparent public indifference to constitutional reform makes the endorsement of Kocharian’s amendments by the Armenian opposition even more important. The opposition leaders now appear divided on whether or not they should cooperate with the authorities on the issue.