By Astghik Bedevian and Anna Saghabalian
Armenia’s three governing parties are setting up a joint structure that will coordinate the unfolding campaign for the passage of President Robert Kocharian’s constitutional amendments at a referendum next month.
Leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), the Republican Party (HHK) and the Orinats Yerkir Party told RFE/RL on Thursday that they have already formed a skeleton governing board of the campaign headquarters. Each of them will be represented in it by two or three senior members. Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian is the most well-known of them.
It is expected that the coalition partners will be joined by other pro-Kocharian parties and non-governmental organizations. Powerful government officials are also likely to become involved in the effort. But the Armenian authorities remain undecided on whether the “yes” campaign will be managed by a single person. The Republicans are pushing for its collective leadership.
The campaign coordinators will have to grapple with a persisting lack of popular interest in a long list of constitutional amendments that will be put to the vote on November 27. They will also face a stiff competition with Armenia’s leading opposition parties which are joining forces to thwart the reform which they say is aimed at “legitimizing the regime and prolonging its life.”
The HHK’s parliamentary leader, Galust Sahakian, said he believes the authorities have enough time to win over the apathetic public. “The public usually becomes active on the eve of elections,” he argued.
Other coalition leaders said they will try to end the apathy by securing the involvement of prominent Armenian intellectuals, artists and other public figures in the “yes” campaign. “We attach great importance to working with the intelligentsia so that broad sections of the population understand the significance of the issue,” said Dashnaktsutyun’s Levon Mkrtchian.
Samvel Nikoyan, another Republican leader, agreed, saying that the “yes” camp needs to enlist the support of “people who are perceived positively by the society.” He said it will also heavily rely on the so-called “unions of compatriots” which comprise prominent natives of various region’s Armenia.
The most influential of such organizations, Nig-Aparan, is led by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian. It managed last May to organize a controversial mass circle dance around Armenia’s highest mountain with the help of various government agencies, law-enforcement bodies and wealthy businessmen. Kocharian indicated recently that the “yes” campaigners should draw inspiration from the dance attended by tens of thousands of people.
To pass, the constitutional amendments must be backed by at least one third of Armenia’s 2.4 million eligible voters. Opposition leaders have long charged that the authorities grossly inflate the number to facilitate falsifications during presidential and parliamentary elections. Some oppositionists say the authorities have decided to remove hundreds of thousands of names from the vote registers ahead of the referendum.
Sahakian did not deny this. “It would be good for us if the voter lists were cleaned up,” he said.