By Ruzanna Stepanian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Central Election Commission on Wednesday dismissed as unlawful opposition demands to invalidate the official results of Armenia’s disputed constitutional referendum.
An opposition grouping of about 20 parties has given the government-controlled CEC until Friday to scrap the allegedly fraudulent vote or face more street protests in Yerevan.
The commission secretary, Tsovinar Khachatrian, told RFE/RL that under Armenia’s law on referendum the CEC can not consider any appeals after approving final vote results. The CEC formalized the adoption of the constitutional amendments put forward by President Robert Kocharian and his loyal parliament majority on Tuesday.
According to its final vote tally, nearly two thirds of Armenia’s 2.3 million eligible voters took part in Sunday’s referendum and over 93 percent of them voted for the amendments. But local observers and activists reject it as fraudulent, pointing to the fact that many polling stations across Armenia unusually deserted on voting day. A monitoring mission from the Council of Europe also cast doubt on the credibility of the official high turnout.
Still, Khachatrian said the opposition can now take their case only to the Constitutional Court. But opposition leaders ruled out such option.
“We gave 72 hours not to the Central Election Commission but to the entire government. Let them find legal ways of addressing our demand,” one of them, Vazgen Manukian, told RFE/RL. “I am convinced that our people will not forgive this impudent act of high treason committed in front of their eyes. Robert Kocharian will not get away with it. The process will continue.”
“For members of the CEC, the three days is a chance to reverse the crime committed by them,” said another oppositionist, Suren Sureniants.
It is not clear what exactly the opposition will do if the authorities refuse to give in. Its rallies held so far have not been big enough to threaten Kocharian’s grip on power. Manukian appeared to admit this
“It would be good if the people took to the streets,” he said. “One day that will have a great significance. We are now thinking about ways of organizing the people not only by means of rallies but also by visiting every neighborhood, every apartment building. Little by little, the government will find itself beyond the law.”
The opposition actions were commended by another well-known government foe, Artashes Geghamian. “It is becoming evident to our compatriots that all opposition forces, all public organizations with a strong sense of civic consciousness are unanimous in their assessment of the past referendum,” he told RFE/RL.
Nonetheless, Geghamian’s National Unity Party (AMK) has so far avoided any involvement in the opposition rallies.
The final referendum protocol was not signed by two of the nine CEC members representing the AMK and the Artarutyun alliance. Both opposition groups recalled all of their members from the various-level election commission on the eve of the vote.
(Photolur photo: CEC chairman Garegin Azarian.)