By Ruzanna Khachatrian
National Unity Party (AMK) leader Artashes Geghamian joined on Wednesday Armenia’s leading opposition groups in calling for a popular boycott of this month’s constitutional referendum.
Geghamian and virtually all other leaders of the Armenian opposition until recently campaigned for a “no” vote in the referendum. But they now say low turnout would make it more difficult for President Robert Kocharian to push through his constitutional changes.
Geghamian attributed the U-turn to a lack of opposition access to Armenia’s government-controlled television stations that have openly been agitating for the passage of the draft amendments. “That means voters have been unable to hear the alternative view on the issue,” he told RFE/RL in an interview. “Boycotting the referendum is therefore the right thing to do.”
Opposition leaders say they have so far been unable to run any paid televised advertisements urging Armenians to reject Kocharian’s constitutional reform. The state-run Armenian Public Television and private networks broadcast only those ads that urge a “yes” vote.
Mher Shahgeldian, a senior parliamentarian who manages “Yes” campaign, confirmed on Monday that they remain free of charge for the Armenian authorities. “We do not pay for televised propaganda,” Shahgeldian told a news conference. He at the same time claimed that the opposition does have access to the media.
“The constitutional changes are doomed to be rejected by our people,” said Geghamian. “That is obvious to all of us. An undecided person deprived of the right to hear the opposition view [on TV channels] will not blindly go to the polls and vote for those changes.”
Opposition sources told RFE/RL that Geghamian and other top oppositionists will meet this week and try to work out a joint plan of action for the coming weeks. The Yerevan daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” reported on Wednesday that a recall of all members of election commissions representing the opposition is now a real possibility.
The most radical opposition leader, Aram Sarkisian, makes no secret of his intention to use the referendum for staging an anti-government “revolution” similar to the bloodless uprisings in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. His opposition allies, though more cautious, also seem to be gearing for street protests.
Geghamian said he will tell supporters what to do on November 28, the day after the referendum. He claimed that its falsification would mark “the beginning of regime change” in Armenia.