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By Anna Saghabalian
Vazgen Manukian, a veteran Armenian politician, strongly commended his opposition allies on Thursday for embracing his calls for a popular boycott of the weekend constitutional referendum.

Manukian, who leads the opposition National Democratic Union (AZhM) party, argued that opposition supporters’ failure vote on Sunday will make it easier to gauge the degree of popular support for constitutional changes sought by Armenia’s leadership.

“I want to stress than the boycott is not a sign of protest or walkout from the referendum,” he told a news conference. “On the contrary, it is the most effective means of struggle, about which we spoke months ago.”

Manukian’s allies from the Artarutyun (Justice) alliance and other opposition parties initially campaigned for a “no” vote. But they decided to switch to the boycott tactic mid-way through the referendum campaign, making the seasoned AZhM leader feel vindicated.

High turnout is a necessary condition for the adoption of the Western-backed constitutional amendments. To pass they need to be backed by at least one third of Armenia’s 2.3 million eligible voters.

Manukian believes that the authorities can not clear the threshold for the amendments to be deemed adopted without resorting to large-scale vote rigging. Assuming that most opponents of the constitutional reform will stay at home on Sunday, he said the opposition now has to simply count the number of people going to the polls. “The boycott is a great opportunity to control and expose fraud,” he said.

The opposition calls have been denounced by leaders of the governing coalition. They have also prompted concern from the president of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Rene van der Linden. In a statement on Tuesday, he urged Armenians to actively participate in the referendum.

The opposition hopes that vote irregularities will spark the kind of popular indignation that swept away the ruling regimes in other former Soviet republics. Opposition leaders plan to start a campaign of rallies in Yerevan on Sunday. According to Manukian and many local observers, its success depends on the number of people taking to the streets of the capital.

“Will the people agree to take to the streets and fight against the regime and falsifications that are again putting the state in a terrible situation?” he said. “It all depends on the people. If the people want, we will be at the forefront, will take blows and will change the situation.”

(Photolur photo: Vazgen Manukian.)
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