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By Anna Saghabalian
Televised advertisements urging Armenians to vote for President Robert Kocharian’s constitutional changes continue to be broadcast free of charge for the three governing parties spearheading his pre-referendum campaign, it emerged on Thursday.

The “Yes” campaign, according to its chief spokesman Spartak Seyranian, has not paid for any of the ads increasingly aired by Armenia’s state television and virtually all private networks loyal to Kocharian. “I don’t even know who produces and runs those ads,” Seyranian told RFE/RL. “We have nothing to do with them.”

“The TV channels have not announced that their airtime is available for paid ads,” he said.

Meanwhile, Armenia’s leading opposition parties campaigning against the passage of the draft amendments insist that the TV channels still refuse to accept any ads from them. Opposition leaders consider this a violation of Armenia’s electoral legislation that guarantees equal campaigning opportunities. They have reportedly lodged complaints with the regulatory National Commission on Television and Radio as well as Western embassies in Yerevan.

But their claims were dismissed last week by Grigor Amalian, the commission’s chairman. He said that the November 27 constitutional referendum is not an election and therefore does not require “balanced” campaigning.

It is not clear if the “Yes” campaign has paid for any of the billboards across Yerevan that urge popular support for the constitutional amendments purporting to curtail the Armenian president’s sweeping powers. There are no billboards reflecting the opposition view on the issue.

Under Armenia’s law on referenda, a single political party or a non-governmental organization can not spend more than 10 million drams ($22,000) on pre-referendum campaigning. Seyranian said his Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) party has raised 7 million drams so far. “As far as I know, similar sums were contributed to the Republican Party and Orinats Yerkir,” he said, referring to Dashnaktsutyun’s coalition partners.

The “Yes” campaign’s real expenditures are thought to be much higher, however.

(Photolur photo: A poster of the "Yes" campaign.)
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