By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A top leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) acknowledged on Thursday that last month’s constitutional referendum was not free and fair, but insisted that the governing nationalist party was not involved in any vote irregularities.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Hrant Markarian indicated that other pro-government factions are to blame for serious fraud reported by local and international observers.
“I think everyone’s reputation has been somewhat tainted,” he said, referring to the Armenian authorities’ handling of the November 27 vote. “But I don’t think that anyone in Armenia believes or will believe that Dashnaktsutyun was involved in falsifications.”
“As for why it did not fully succeed in preventing falsifications, that was the case because we were alone,” he added. “Other interested parties boycotted and withdrew from the [electoral] commissions. We held only one of the nine [commission seats]. We are responsible for what happened only to a corresponding degree.”
The remarks represent the most critical assessment yet of the referendum’s conduct made by a leading member of Dashnaktsutyun and are a clear jibe at its coalition partners, notably the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. The Republicans have already denounced the third party represented in the cabinet, Orinats Yerkir, for largely endorsing the fraud allegations.
The Orinats Yerkir leader, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, reaffirmed the criticism on Tuesday, questioning the credibility of the “disproportionately high” voter turnout reported by the Central Election Commission. “Those who paid us a lip service did no good to our country and its people,” he told RFE/RL.
“We did our best to maintain law and order in the commissions,” Baghdasarian added, contradicting Hrant Markarian’s claim that only Dashnaktsutyun representatives tried to counter vote rigging.
The speaker publicized on Wednesday his letter to Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian which contained reported instances of ballot box stuffing and other irregularities. However, Hovsepian has already dismissed the letter, saying that it is short on specifics.
Markarian, who is the de facto head of Dashnaktsutyun’s worldwide ruling Bureau, also said that the irregularities were only facilitated by the Armenian opposition’s decision to urge a popular boycott of the referendum and recall its representatives to the election commissions. “The main loser is the opposition in the sense that it failed to keep pace with the instincts of our people,” he said. “They must realize that our people do not accept extreme actions.”
Markarian underscored his dissatisfaction with the Armenian government’s track record when he said that a June 2003 memorandum that set up the ruling coalition should be “revised.” But he made it clear that his party has no intention to pull out of the coalition before the next parliamentary election due in 2007.