By Karine Kalantarian, Ruzanna Stepanian and Astghik Bedevian
The Artarutyun (Justice) alliance decided on Tuesday to recall its representatives to various-level election commissions, completing the opposition withdrawal from the conduct of Sunday’s constitutional referendum.
One of the nine opposition parties affiliated with the bloc, Hanrapetutyun (Republic), as well as Artashes Geghamian’s National Unity Party (AMK) already made such a decision on Monday. It was endorsed by the Artarutyun leadership.
“All but one member of the Artarutyun alliance decided to recall their representatives [from the election commissions],” one of the bloc’s leaders, Victor Dallakian, told reporters.
The dissenter is a small party led by Arshak Sadoyan, an outspoken veteran lawmaker. Sadoyan believes that the boycott of the voting and ballot counting process will make it easier for the Armenian authorities to rig the referendum. “I find this policy of passive struggle wrong, especially given the fact that there is a need to show the international community how elections in Armenia and this referendum are rigged,” he said.
“If you boycott elections, you can not have any involvement in their conduct,” countered Hanrapetutyun leader Aram Sarkisian.
Under Armenia’s election law, the AMK and Artarutyun 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. They say the November 27 vote will be free and fair, a pledge dismissed by the opposition.
Sarkisian argued that the opposition is too underrepresented in the electoral bodies to be able to avert vote rigging anyway. “In 2003, for example, we did our best to ensure the fairness of the [presidential and parliamentary] elections,” he said. “Did we succeed? Of course, not. Why? Because police would enter polling stations and expel commission members and observers.”
Opposition leaders claim many of their commission members are facing government pressure and financial incentives to turn a blind eye to irregularities on voting day. Sadoyan said he thinks some election officials affiliated with his National Democratic Alliance have already been bribed. But he said this is not enough of a reason to quit the commissions.
The opposition decision was also dismissed by leaders of the Armenian parliament’s pro-Kocharian majority who have been campaigning for a “yes” vote in the referendum. “As was the case with other opposition steps, this step too can not have any reasonable explanation,” deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian told RFE/RL. “I think these are nervous gestures that are taken spontaneously.”
“An opposition that respects itself would not take such a step,” Torosian said, suggesting that the AMK and Artarutyun need an excuse for refusing to recognize the freedom and fairness of the referendum.
According to Galust Sahakian, the leader of the parliament’s largest Republican faction, the opposition has thrown itself into deadlock. “Whatever they do now they won’t be able to get out of that deadlock,” he said.
“The opposition has opted for a tactic which I don’t think will yield tangible results,” said Levon Mkrtchian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).
(RFE/RL photo: Artarutyun leader Stepan Demirchian.)