By Astghik Bedevian
Leaders of Armenia’s parliament majority rejected on Monday opposition demands for a special parliamentary inquiry into reports of ballot box stuffing and other serious fraud that marred the November 27 constitutional referendum.
The opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance wants the government-controlled National Assembly to form an ad hoc commission that would thoroughly investigate what it sees as massive vote rigging and judge the “legitimacy of the referendum.” “That ad hoc commission would be able to question the chairpersons of all 1,922 [precinct] commissions,” said Victor Dallakian, a senior Artarutyun lawmaker.
But speaker Artur Baghdasarian and other parliament leaders spoke out against the idea, saying that the opposition should submit all evidence of electoral fraud to law-enforcement authorities.
“By and large, the referendum corresponded to international standards, even though there were serious abuses,” Baghdasarian told his opposition colleagues. “Law-enforcement bodies must look into complaints and bring individuals who have paid us lip service to justice,” he added.
Armenia’s Office of Prosecutor-General has already announced a preliminary investigation into the vote rigging allegations but is unlikely to prosecute anyone. Dallakian said the opposition does not trust this and other law-enforcement agencies.
Baghdasarian angered other majority leaders last week when he admitted that there were serious irregularities during the vote. That might explain why lawmakers from the governing Republican Party (HHK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) pointedly chose not to help him fight back opposition attempts to include the issue on the parliament agenda. The 36-year-old speaker was grilled by Dallakian and other oppositionists for more than an hour and looked embarrassed at times.
Artarutyun may still be able to force a parliament debate on its demand by collecting the signatures of at least one third of the assembly’s 131 members. But the parliament majority will almost certainly block the creation of the proposed commission in any case. “The Republican Party will definitely not sign [a possible opposition petition] because only electoral commissions and courts can investigate electoral processes,” its parliamentary leader, Galust Sahakian, told RFE/RL.
According to the Central Election Commission, almost two thirds of Armenia’s 2.3 million eligible voters took part in the referendum and over 93 percent of them voted for the constitutional amendments drafted by President Robert Kocharian and his governing coalition. The reported turnout is strikingly high given the unprecedented lack of voters in the polling stations on November 27. The opposition claims that the real turnout stood at below 16 percent.
It also emerged on Monday that the Artarutyun faction in the parliament is set to dismiss one of its members, Shavarsh Kocharian, as the opposition bloc’s sole representative to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Kocharian (no relation to the Armenian president) is the only prominent oppositionist who has refused to campaign against the enactment of the proposed amendments.
Opposition sources said this is the reason why the bloc’s top leader, Stepan Demirchian, will likely replace him in the Armenian delegation at the Strasbourg-based assembly. Kocharian refused to comment on the information.
(Photolur photo: Victor Dallakian.)