By Shakeh Avoyan
Opposition leader Stepan Demirchian equated a popular rejection of the proposed constitutional changes with a vote of no confidence in Armenia’s leadership on Friday, underscoring the opposition tactic for the November 27 referendum.
Campaigning in the country’s second largest city of Gyumri, Demirchian reiterated opposition calls for a popular boycott of the vote. “In this situation the best way to say ‘no’ is not to go to the polls,” he said, addressing a rally at the city’s main square. “We urge you to boycott this illegitimate regime.”
“People here asked us to do something,” he said. “We are going to do something together. We must jointly fight for our rights, dignity and future of our country.”
Demirchian and most other opposition leaders initially campaigned for a “no” vote at the referendum. But they decided earlier this week to switch to the boycott tactic, saying that it will complicate the authorities’ efforts to push through their constitutional amendments.
The amendments are aimed at curtailing sweeping powers vested in the Armenian presidency by the current constitution enacted a decade ago. The United States and Europe consider their adoption is essential for Armenia’s democratization and closer ties with the West. But the opposition says they are cosmetic and would only “legitimize” the ruling regime.
The Gyumri rally showed that for many disaffected Armenians voting for the amendments is tantamount to voicing support for the administration of President Robert Kocharian. “My pension is 8,000 drams ($18),” said one of its female participants. “That’s not enough even for paying my utility bills,”
Another protester noted that defeat of the constitutional changes could lead to Kocharian’s resignation. “Only those who have posts, villas and Mercedes cars, don’t want regime change,” she said. “We pensioners too want to live well, eat meat and sausage.”