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By Astghik Bedevian
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian admitted over the weekend that last month’s constitutional referendum in Armenia was flawed and said the authorities should draw appropriate “conclusions” to ensure that the next national elections are more democratic.

But he insisted that the reported fraud was not significant enough to affect the outcome of the November 27 vote that allowed President Robert Kocharian and his three-party coalition to declare their amendments to the Armenian constitution adopted.

“There were phenomena such as ballot stuffing which were absolutely unnecessary,” Markarian told reporters during a congress of his Republican Party (HHK), the largest coalition force. “Members of the election commissions, in which all three coalition parties are represented, should have registered that. Unfortunately, that was not registered anywhere, and from the legal standpoint it is impossible to present anything to the prosecutor’s office or the Constitutional Court.”

“The main thing is to draw conclusions so that such actions are not carried out during the next elections,” he added.

The authorities’ handling of the referendum was also criticized by another HHK leader, deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian. “Unfortunately, we failed to hold a flawless electoral process this time as well,” he told hundreds of fellow Republicans.

Torosian claimed that the fraud was facilitated by the Armenian opposition’s calls for a popular boycott of the referendum and withdrawal from the electoral commissions. The opposition controls two of the nine seats in those commissions.

According to the Central Election Commission, almost two thirds of the 2.3 eligible voters, a very high turnout by Armenian standards, took part in the referendum and over 93 percent of them endorsed the constitutional amendments. The opposition put the turnout at below 16 percent, alleging massive vote rigging. The official vote results were also questioned by Council of Europe observers who reported “an extremely low voting activity” across the country.

The observers as well as the European Union and the United States have urged the Armenian authorities to punish election officials guilty of irregularities. Even though Armenia’s Office of Prosecutor-General claims to be investigating the fraud allegations, Markarian’s comments suggest that nobody will be prosecuted as a result.

Markarian was at pains to downplay renewed friction between the HHK and its coalition partners, notably the Orinats Yerkir Party of parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian. “We do not aim to break up the coalition in 2006,” he said.

But the premier as well as the HHK’s parliamentary leader, Galust Sahakian, clearly referred to Orinats Yerkir when they rebuked unspecified government factions for continuing to resort to “populism.” Baghdasarian’s party blocked several government bills in parliament and came up with legislative initiatives disapproved by the cabinet this year.

Torosian apparently had this in mind when he urged the HHK’s parliament faction, the biggest in the National Assembly, to “do more.” “We must not lose the initiative in the parliament,” he said.

Markarian, who was reelected as HHK chairman by the congress, again refused to speculate about the possibility of his participation in the next presidential election due in 2008. He said that the Republicans will decide whom to nominate for the presidency after the 2007 parliamentary election.

(Photolur photo)
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