By Astghik Bedevian
The freedom and fairness of the upcoming constitutional referendum is more important for the Armenian authorities than its positive outcome, a senior member of the governing Republican Party (HHK) said over the weekend.
Galust Sahakian, the leader of the HHK faction in parliament, dismissed opposition claims that President Robert Kocharian and his ruling coalition will try to enact their constitutional amendments at any cost in order to keep the Armenian opposition at bay and please the West. He said the referendum’s falsification would be fraught with greater risks for the Kocharian administration.
“It will be better if the [constitutional] draft doesn’t pass than if it passes with violations,” Sahakian said.
The Council of Europe has for years been pressing Armenia to reform its controversial post-Soviet constitution which gives sweeping powers to the president of the republic at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches of government. Kocharian already put a package of constitutional amendments to a referendum in May 2003, but it failed to win sufficient voter support.
Under Armenian law, the amendments have to be backed by a majority of referendum participants that make up at least one third of the country’s 2.4 million eligible voters. Opposition leaders, who have rejected Kocharian’s revised constitutional draft endorsed by the Council of Europe and the United States, claim that the authorities can not garner that many votes and may well rig the referendum.
But Sahakian ruled out such possibility. “If you think that one-sided falsifications are possible you are wrong,” he told reporters.
Sahakian, whose party has the largest faction in the National Assembly, also insisted that the failure of the proposed constitutional reform would not mean a popular vote of no confidence in the Armenian leadership as is claimed by opposition leaders. The latter make no secret of their plans to exploit the issue for another attempt to unseat Kocharian.
Lawmakers affiliates with Armenia’s two main opposition groups suspended last week their 18-month boycott of the parliament to attend its final debates on the constitutional changes and urge a ‘no’ vote at the referendum. Sahakian admitted that the opposition attacks, broadcast live on state television, made it more difficult for the authorities to drum up public support for the reform.
“I wish they hadn’t showed up,” he said, referring to his opposition colleagues. “They came and interfered with our campaigning for the draft.”