Representatives of Armenian opposition parties campaigning against the planned constitutional changes regard President Serzh Sarkisian’s statements about the upcoming referendum made at the latest prestigious international gathering as a means to win over the European officials and avoid their strict assessments later on.
In his October 21 address to the congress of the European People’s Party (EPP) in Madrid, Spain, that was presided over by EPP President Joseph Daul and attended by the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, Sarkisian also spoke about Armenia’s further democratization in the context of the planned constitutional amendments.
“Should our people approve the constitutional amendments [in a referendum] on December 6, Armenia will transform its semi-presidential model of governance into a parliamentary one, which in its turn will make more efficient the interaction of the separate branches of power, will pave the way for more intensive economic development, will increase the level of human rights protection and the institutional role of the opposition,” the Armenian leader said, in particular.
Members of a number of opposition parties and groups in Armenia, however, maintain that the sole aim of initiating constitutional changes was to enable Sarkisian to indefinitely stay in power in a different capacity after the end of his second and final presidential term in 2018. Armenia’s main opposition groups also claim that the authorities plan to rig the vote to ensure the passage of the controversial reform.
“It is simply obvious to everyone that it will be impossible [for the authorities to have the changes passed] without rigging the referendum,” Armen Martirosian, deputy head of the opposition Heritage party, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).
To pass, the amendments will have to be approved by the majority of referendum participants making up at least one-quarter of Armenia’s 2.5 million or so eligible voters. Sarkisian and his political allies will thus need to garner at least 620,000 votes. The Armenian president got, according to official results, more than 860,000 votes when he secured his reelection in a February 2013 ballot denounced as fraudulent by his main challenger, Heritage leader Raffi Hovannisian, and other opposition forces.
Martirosian, whose party along with other opposition groups plans to stage street protests ahead of the constitutional referendum, also criticized Sarkisian for what he described as a big difference between his words and actions.
“Of course, [Sarkisian’s] speech writer has put it well, a wonderful text... In numerous other texts we have noticed the pen of this great writer, but the quality of writing, unfortunately, shows a stark contrast between texts and our reality,” Martirosian said.
Members of Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party, meanwhile, believe that the opposition is trying “to foist its unfounded opinion on the public”.
“What the president said from the high EPP tribune is quite the reality, and our society will make sure that it is in the coming years,” pro-government lawmaker Gagik Melikian said.