By Karine Kalantarian and Astghik Bedevian
Two leading opposition parties represented in Armenia’s electoral commissions decided on Monday to effectively recall their members from those bodies and avoid any involvement in the conduct of the November 27 constitutional referendum.
The decisions by Artashes Geghamian’s National Unity Party (AMK) and Aram Sarkisian’s Hanrapetutyun (Republic) Party will give the Armenian authorities near complete control over the electoral process that will not be followed by a large number of Western observers.
Under Armenian law, the AMK and the Artarutyun bloc, of which Hanrapetutyun is a member, each hold one seat in the Central Election Commission (CEC) and its district- and precinct-level divisions. The remaining seven seats are controlled by President Robert Kocharian and his allies.
The AMK said its representatives’ participation in the process is rendered meaningless by “numerous violations” of Armenia’s Electoral Code allegedly committed by the authorities. “The actions of AMK members violating this decision will be considered a result of brute pressure exerted on them or material incentives given to them,” the party’s governing board said in a statement. “They would face tough disciplinary action.”
Geghamian claimed that some AMK members sitting on the commissions have received threats to report and resist vote falsifications. Other opposition sources said that there have also been attempts to commission members representing the AMK and Artarutyun and that some of them have been successful.
Hanrapetutyun, which controls nearly one third of commission seats reserved for Artarutyun, issued its recall order later in the day. Victor Dallakian, one of the Artarutyun leaders, said the bloc as a whole will likely follow suit on Tuesday. “Recall of commission members fits the logic of the referendum boycott,” he told RFE/RL.
However, implementation of the opposition decisions is fraught with difficulties. While Armenian parties represented in parliament have the right to appoint commission members, they can not dismiss the latter at will. It remains to be seen how many election officials representing the opposition will comply with the recall.
Geghamian dismissed the argument that the opposition pullout from the electoral bodies will facilitate vote rigging. He argued that the referendum can already be considered “illegitimate” and that his party will deploy observers tasked with gauging the voter turnout.
Meanwhile, representatives of the government camp remained upbeat about their chances of garnering sufficient popular support for Kocharian’s draft amendments to the Armenian constitution. Spartak Seyranian, the spokesman for the “Yes” campaign, told RFE/RL that its emphasis on “informing” voters about the essence of the amendments, rather than promoting them, is paying off. “We don’t seem to have made serious mistakes,” he said.
Garnik Isagulian, Kocharian’s national security adviser and one of the most active referendum campaigners, continued to make a case for a “yes” vote. He was scheduled to meet with the employees of Yerevan’s Research Institute of Mathematical Machines. But only 15 of them turned up for the meeting, leading the institute administration to bring in students of a private university based within the institute premises.
Isagulian described opposition arguments against the constitutional reform as “weak” and assured the audience that it is not aimed to legitimizing Armenia’s flawed political system. He also said the Kocharian administration is committed to combating rampant corruption. “If you think those who plundered the country will continue enjoy their wealth, you are wrong,” said the former security officer. “They will pay up one day.”