By Nane Atshemian
Tens of thousands of Armenians that still hold Soviet passports have been excluded from the national voter lists and will not be able to take part in the upcoming constitutional referendum, a senior official confirmed over the weekend.
The move, condemned by the Armenian opposition, will lower the vote threshold for the passage of President Robert Kocharian’s package of draft constitutional amendments.
To pass, the draft amendments need to be backed by at least one third of 2.4 million people listed in Armenia’s vote registers, a number which is widely thought to be inflated. The exclusion of Soviet Armenian passport holders will shorten the lists and make it easier for the authorities to push through the constitutional draft.
Opposition leaders, who are actively campaigning against the Western-backed reform, have already cried foul, saying that as many as 300,000 people will be barred from the November 27 referendum and the counting of ballots that will follow it. But according to the head of the Passport and Visa Department at Armenia’s Police Service, Alvina Zakarian, their number does not exceed 162,000. She said many of those individuals are refugees from Azerbaijan who still refuse to adopt Armenian citizenship.
“Yes, we did not include them [in the voter lists] because it is was impossible to immediately clarify whether individuals with Soviet passports are refugees or citizens of the Republic of Armenia,” Zakarian told a news conference. “We excluded them also given the fact that back in 2000 the government decided to invalidate the former Soviet passports.”
However, the 2003 decision did not prevent Soviet passport holders from voting in the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2003. Many refugees also reportedly participated in those polls.
Zakarian denied opposition claims that the authorities are deliberately and artificially disenfranchising Armenians with the aim of enacting their amendments at any cost. She said those individuals have been given a chance to obtain Armenian passports by November 25 free of charge and vote in the referendum.
The notoriously inaccurate lists have been a major problem in the conduct of various-level Armenian elections over the past decade. The authorities promised to remedy the situation by shifting responsibility for drawing up and maintaining those lists from local governments to the police earlier this year. However, Armenian election monitoring groups again reported numerous inaccuracies during the recent local polls held across the country.
But Zakarian insisted that the situation has already improved markedly. “If we compare the voter lists of the previous years with the current voter lists, the difference will be very big,” she said.