By Nane Atshemian
The Artarutyun (Justice) bloc and eight other Armenian opposition groups pledged on Thursday to work together to scuttle the passage of President Robert Kocharian’s draft constitutional amendments at a referendum due in November.
Their leaders said they will strive to accomplish that with “joint coordinated activities” that will also be aimed at “establishing a legitimate government by means of free elections.”
“We unequivocally reject this process of constitutional changes and thereby say no to the regime,” they said in a statement issued after a meeting in Yerevan. “Regime change is imperative in the existing situation.”
However, the 17 parties that signed the statement have yet to decide whether they will urge Armenians to boycott the referendum or take part in it and vote against the package of amendments drafted by Kocharian and his governing coalition. One of the signatories, Aram Karapetian of the Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party, suggested that the opposition campaign for a ‘no’ vote in rural areas and a boycott in Yerevan and other urban communities.
“Ensuring a boycott in villages is a bit difficult. People will be forced to vote in the villages anyway,” Karapetian told RFE/RL.
Two major opposition groups, Artashes Geghamian’s National Unity Party (AMK) and Raffi Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, did not sign the statement for unknown reasons. Both parties are likewise opposed to the proposed constitutional reform. Geghamian had a bitter personal dispute with Karapetian last year and it is not clear if he will agree to cooperate with the latter now.
Kocharian and his allies say the draft constitutional amendments would speed up Armenia’s democratization by putting in place a more effective system of checks and balances. The Council of Europe, the European Union and the United States take a similar view.
However, the opposition statement insisted that the proposed changes are cosmetic and aim to “legitimize the regime and prolong its life.”