Armenian opposition parties and groups campaigning against the proposed constitutional amendments ahead of a referendum insist the refusal of Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian to take a leave while managing the ruling party’s “Yes” campaign adds to the illegitimacy of the process.
At a meeting of the Republican Party of Armenia’s (HHK) executive body on Monday President Serzh Sarkisian, who is the leader of the party, reportedly instructed Abrahamian to take up the position of campaign manager and form and lead the HHK campaign headquarters ahead of the referendum due on December 6.
HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov made it clear that under Armenia’s law on referendums an official does not have to go on vacation when he or she has to manage a campaign ahead of the voting.
He said that Abrahamian will rather combine his duties. Other members of the HHK later explained that the prime minister will do the campaign outside his working hours.
But the part of the opposition that is against the controversial constitutional reform claims that Abrahamian’s appointment “proves that the referendum will be rigged.”
Lawmaker Zaruhi Postanjian, of the opposition Heritage party, believes that the prime minister will use his administrative resource in promoting the “Yes” campaign.
“Their choosing this particular person shows that they have concerns about the conduct of the vote. Because they picked the most experienced amongst themselves for this dirty job,” Postanjian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).
“You Won’t Pass It”, a civil group that is also opposed to the constitutional changes and is carrying out its own “No” campaign, is also skeptical about the appointment.
Armen Grigorian, a leading member of the group, claimed that the referendum process is “taking place with violations”. He also echoed other opposition concerns that Constitutional Court Chairman Gagik Harutiunian will be biased during the possible appeal against the outcome of the referendum as he headed the professional committee that drafted the amendments.
Earlier, Constitutional Court officials dismissed the call for Harutiunian’s resignation based on the fact that he could not be an impartial judge as co-author of the amendments. They reminded that Harutiunian also headed the constitutional reform commission in 1999-2001. The referendum that followed in 2003 then did not approve the proposed changes to the Constitution.
Meanwhile, Levon Zurabian, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress, described these explanations as ridiculous. “In fact, a person says that since once he already sinned, this cannot be regarded as a sin anymore,” the oppositionist said.