By Karine Kalantarian, Anna Saghabalian and Heghine Buniatian
Armenia’s opposition groups will try to send a single and unambiguous message to supporters on how to block the adoption of President Robert Kocharian’s constitutional amendments, one of their most prominent leaders, Artashes Geghamian, said over the weekend.
Campaigning for in the northern city of Vanadzor, Geghamian indicated that his National Unity Party (AMK) as well as the Artarutyun alliance and other opposition parties may yet call for a popular boycott the November 27 referendum. He said they will start “serious discussions” on the issue later this week.
“We will weigh up all options, including boycott and a ‘no’ vote, after which we will make a final decision together with you,” he told over 600 people that packed a local conference hall to hear his opinion on the Western-backed constitutional reform.
Some opposition figures insist that low turnout would make it more difficult for the authorities to rig the referendum.
But the AMK and most of the nine parties aligned in Artarutyun decided earlier to urge supporters to go to the polls and vote against a string of amendments drafted by Kocharian and his governing coalition. However, there are growing indications that they are having second thoughts about the wisdom of this tactic.
“It is probably right to call for a total boycott,” Geghamian’s referendum campaign chief, Gagik Tadevosian, admitted on Monday. “We are discussing this with various opposition wings,” he told RFE/RL.
This is apparently the reason why Geghamian, Artarutyun leader Stepan Demirchian and other oppositionists have only implicitly told voters to take part in the referendum. Geghamian made the weekend comment in response to a question from a female opposition supporter who found the opposition stance confusing.
In his speech, Geghamian said little about the essence of the proposed amendments apart from denouncing as “very dangerous” the abolition of a constitutional ban on dual citizenship which is sought by the Kocharian administration. He repeated the opposition argument that the ruling regime has repeatedly violated the existing constitution and therefore has no moral right to amend it.
“If people are turning the country into their fiefdom by violating the constitution, why should they care which constitution is in force?” said the AMK leader.
Meanwhile, Demirchian and his close associates were scheduled to campaign in Ashtarak, the capital of the central Aragatsotn region, on Saturday. However, their rally there was cancelled due to heavy rain. Demirchian toured instead some of the surrounding villages, again equating rejection of the constitutional changes to a vote of no confidence in Kocharian.
Ashtarak was already visited on Friday by a much larger group of oppositionists led by Aram Sarkisian of the Hanrapetutyun party. The fact that the three top opposition leaders are campaigning separately is downplayed by their associates, with Tadevosian saying that all opposition parties are now bound by “a unity of purpose.”
“We are jointly saying ‘no’ to the regime,” concurred Victor Dallakian, an opposition lawmaker close to Demirchian.