By Anna Saghabalian and Nane Atshemian
A leader of Armenia’s main governing party deplored on Thursday opposition calls for a popular boycott of the November 27 constitutional referendum, saying they have only increased the likelihood of vote manipulation.
“The opposition has chosen the boycott option. Boycott will have its consequences in terms of [vote] violations,” Galust Sahakian of the Republican Party of Armenia said at a roundtable discussion of constitutional changes put to the referendum.
Armenia’s main opposition groups urged supporters this week to reject the amendments put forward by President Robert Kocharian and his ruling coalition by steering clear of the polling stations on November 27. Most opposition leaders had initially campaigned for a “no” vote. They now say boycott is a more effective means of scuttling the passage of the amendments.
But critics say low turnout could actually facilitate some forms of vote rigging that have been commonplace in Armenia. Manuk Gasparian, a maverick politician known for his hard-hitting attacks on the government, made a similar point during the discussion.
Sahakian insisted that the authorities will not seek to push through the amendments at any cost, saying that ordinary Armenians should be more interested in their adoption than the ruling regime. “If ‘no’ wins on November 27, our life will continue in the same monotonous way full of arbitrary practices,” he warned.
But despite such assurances, senior government officials continued to campaign for a “yes” vote across the country. Two of them, presidential adviser Garnik Isagulian and the head of a body overseeing Armenia’s civil service, Manvel Badalian, met university students in Yerevan.
Isagulian was clearly annoyed as he was grilled by pro-opposition students. One of them claimed that the campaign meeting is meaningless because the authorities will rig the referendum anyway. “Boy, if you think nothing depends on you, why are you in this auditorium in the first place?” responded Isagulian. “Keep in mind that during referenda power is yours, not ours,” he told the audience.
Badalian, for his part, said there is nothing wrong with the conspicuous presence of government employees at events organized by the “Yes” campaign. Armenian civil servants are not allowed to take part in election campaigns.
“Referendum is a popular process,” Badalian told RFE/RL. “This is not a presidential or parliamentary election. So they can take part in this public process. I can only welcome that.”