By Astghik Bedevian
Most Armenians remain apathetic about their government’s efforts to amend their constitution despite greater publicity attracted by the issue in the last few weeks, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian admitted on Monday.
Baghdasarian said getting a majority of voters to endorse a package of draft constitutional amendments that will be put to a referendum in November will therefore be an uphill task for President Robert Kocharian and his governing coalition.
“We must be able to carry out correct and effective propaganda,” he told reporters. “We need to explain the significance of constitutional reform to our people, the vast majority of whom do not care about it at all.”
Details of such a publicity campaign were apparently discussed at a meeting between President Robert Kocharian and Baghdasarian and other coalition leaders later in the day. No details of the meeting were reported by the presidential office.
Opinion polls conducted so far indicate that the majority of the country’s population is unaware of the essence of the reform sought by the Council of Europe and approved by the European Union and the United States. According to the most recent voter survey reported last week, only 13 percent of Yerevan residents intend to take part in the planned referendum.
A high voter turnout is a necessary condition for the passage of the amendments that would somewhat curtail sweeping powers enjoyed by the president of the republic. To pass, they need to be backed by a majority of referendum participants that make up at least one third of Armenia’s 2.4 million voters.
Kocharian indicated last month that he will mobilize all political and administrative resources at his disposal to ensure a desired outcome of the referendum. But his political opponents, who have rejected the proposed changes as insignificant and irrelevant to Armenia’s democratization, claim that the authorities can not do that without vote rigging.
Some senior representatives of the presidential camp insist that the authorities will not seek to push the amendments through at any cost. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Kocharian’s top lieutenant and most likely successor, has noted in this regard that a failure of the referendum would not mean a popular vote of no confidence in the ruling regime.
Baghdasarian, who has just returned from a week-long visit to the United States organized by the State Department, said the constitutional reform was high on the agenda of his meetings with U.S. government officials and legislators. “I had about 57 meetings in eight days,” he said. “The United States finds the realization of constitutional reform in Armenia important.”
In an interview with RFE/RL earlier this month, the U.S ambassador in Yerevan, John Evans, said success of the reform would be “a step forward” for Armenia so long as that it is not achieved through electoral fraud. “We have already made it very clear in a number of ways that this referendum should be carried out as a free and fair vote of the Armenian people,” Evans said.
“Time for falsifications is gone,” the Armenian speaker said, for his part. “There is no need for falsifications. Nor would they be tolerated by our people and international organizations.”
(Photolur photo: Artur Baghdasarian.)