By Ruzanna Stepanian and Anna Saghabalian
Armenia’s leading opposition forces are preparing to launch a nationwide campaign of rallies aimed at persuading voters to reject constitutional changes proposed by President Robert Kocharian and his allies.
Leaders of the Artarutyun alliance and the National Unity Party (AMK) told RFE/RL on Monday that they will tour the country’s regions to counter government attempts to attract popular support for a package of amendments that will be put to a referendum later this years.
“I think all opposition parties will be holding rallies across the country. They will start from the regions and finish in Yerevan,” said Aram Sarkisian, the leader of the most radical of nine parties aligned in Artarutyun.
In his words, the Yerevan rallies are likely to be jointly organized by Artarutyun and the AMK. “I assure you that the authorities will not be having a good time,” he said.
Sarkisian and other Artarutyun leadership are expected to discuss a joint plan of actions at a meeting later this week. The AMK leader, Artashes Geghamian, confirmed that the opposition campaign will first target areas outside Yerevan. He said his party will tell Armenians that by rejecting the draft amendments at the referendum they will vote no confidence in Kocharian and his regime.
The authorities maintain, however, that constitutional reform is necessary for advancing Armenia’s democratization and European integration. The Council of Europe, the European Union and the United States take the same view. They have urged the opposition to help Kocharian and his governing coalition carry out the reform.
But Artarutyun and the AMK say far more important is the enforcement of existing laws that provide for free elections and protect human and civil rights. Geghamian claimed that the authorities want to amend the constitution in order to prolong their rule. “They are simply trying to win time for reproducing their failed government,” he said.
Also expressing serious doubts about the sincerity of the government’s intention was Raffi Hovannisian, the leader of the Zharangutyun party, another major opposition group. “When political consensus is absent, when public distrust [in government] runs high, there are big questions as to what this document would bring to our people,” he told RFE/RL, adding that his party will clarify its position on the issue later this week.
Hovannisian also warned the authorities against attempting to rig the upcoming referendum. “If attempts are made to pass this draft with pressures and well-known falsifications, I think it will be the last step of the current regime,” he said.