By Shakeh Avoyan and Astghik Bedevian
Armenia’s largest opposition group ascertained on Wednesday its strategy in the run-up to next month’s constitutional referendum, urging supporters to vote against President Robert Kocharian’s Western-backed package of amendments.
But at least one of nine parties making up the Artarutyun alliance insisted that a popular boycott is a more effective means of scuttling the passage of the proposed changes. As a consequence, Artarutyun’s only implicitly called on Armenians to take part in the referendum slated for November 27.
“By saying no to the so-called constitutional changes you will say no to the regime which is responsible for the political terror of October 27 , which rigged the 1998 and 2003 presidential and parliamentary elections, and which perpetrated barbaric acts against peaceful protesters on April 13, 2004,” the bloc said in a statement issued after a meeting of its ruling board.
Most members of the board were clearly in favor of a “no” vote, but said they have no problem with their colleagues urging a boycott. “My personal view is that we should go to the polls and say no so that the peoples’ votes are not stolen,” said Grigor Harutiunian of the People’s Party, the biggest Artarutyun force.
The boycott option is preferred by Vazgen Manukian’s National Democratic Union (AZhM). “Our position is known and will not undergo any changes,” Manukian said after the meeting.
“Boycott will be expedient only if it is accompanied by active mass protest actions,” said another member of the Artarutyun board, Albert Bazeyan. “I support both an active boycott and a ‘no’ vote.”
Manukian and some other prominent oppositionists believe that a low voter turnout would make it easier for the opposition to expose and thwart government attempts to rig the referendum. To pass, Kocharian’s amendments need the backing of at least one third of Armenia’s 2.4 million eligible voters. Opinion polls and anecdotal evidence suggest that most Armenians remain apathetic about constitutional reform.
A “no” vote is supported not only by the Artarutyun majority but also the National Unity Party (AMK), the second opposition force represented in the Armenian parliament. According to Victor Dallakian, a senior Artarutyun lawmaker, the bloc and the AMK will express their common position in a statement later this week. The two opposition groups plan to hold rallies across the country in the coming weeks
The Artarutyun leadership formed an ad hoc body that will coordinate its pre-referendum campaign and the work of election commission officials and proxies affiliated with the bloc. The “coordinating council” will be headed by Dallakian.
Preparations for the referendum were also discussed late on Tuesday by Armenia’s three governing parties spearheading the “yes” campaign. Leaders of the Republican Party (HHK), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Orinats Yerkir Party again failed to agree on who should manage their joint campaign. The Republicans insists on its collective leadership, while Dashnaktsutyun is pushing for a single campaign manager.
Levon Mkrtchian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, told RFE/RL that the three parties represented in Kocharian’s government hope to reach agreement on Thursday. He said they have already agreed on joint financing of the “yes” campaign. “We will set up a fund to which every party saying ‘yes’ [to the amendments] will make a contribution,” he said without elaborating.
Galust Sahakian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader, revealed that the cash-strapped Armenian government will donate a princely 1.5 billion drams ($3.4 million) to the campaign. He said much of the money will be spent on production of TV ads and posters.