By Ruzanna Stepanian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Central Election Commission brushed aside on Thursday what the Armenian opposition claims is detailed evidence of a large-scale falsification of last November’s constitutional referendum.
The opposition Artarutyun alliance presented on Wednesday the findings of its two-month investigation into the Armenian government’s conduct of the November 27 vote. They showed journalists documents purporting to prove opposition allegations that the authorities resorted to massive vote rigging to push through their amendments to the Armenian constitution.
The CEC spokeswoman, Tsovinar Khachatrian, said the opposition claims “absolutely do not correspond to reality.” “Ever since the referendum the Central Election Commission has been facing allegations which we have repeatedly denied,” she told RFE/RL. “The commission does not want to comment on the same allegations again.”
Artarutyun representatives claim to have examined vote protocols from over 40 percent of some 1,900 polling stations across Armenia and found serious discrepancies between them and vote results released by the CEC. They said their activists polled virtually every voter in several randomly chosen precincts. They said that in one of those precincts covering much of Yerevan’s Malatia-Sebastia district 75 percent of about 2,000 eligible voters certified that they boycotted the referendum.
According to the government-controlled CEC, as many as 1.5 million people, or nearly two thirds of Armenia’s eligible voters, took part in the referendum and 93 percent of them voted for the amendments. The reported turnout, unusually high by Armenian standards, starkly contrasted with deserted polling stations witnessed by journalists and observers.
Observers from the Council of Europe called into question the credibility of the official figures, while Artarutyun claims that the real turnout stood just 16 percent. “This referendum was not valid,” said its representative to the CEC, Felix Khachatrian. “Most people did not take part in it.”
“All of this was planned by the authorities and Robert Kocharian in particular,” charged Grigor Harutiunian, an Artarutyun parliamentarian.
The opposition alliance is now pushing for a special parliamentary inquiry into the fraud allegations. Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian has admitted that there was serious fraud during the vote. But he and other parliament majority leaders loyal to President Robert Kocharian are unlikely to agree to the creation of an ad hoc parliamentary commission dealing with the issue.
The CEC spokeswoman said the opposition should present its purported fraud evidence to the Office of the Prosecutor-General. But opposition leaders lack faith in the law-enforcement agency, arguing that it has failed to punish anyone responsible for vote irregularities reported in the past.