Sparking opposition allegations of foul play, President Serzh Sarkisian has enlisted senior members of his administration and the governors of Armenia’s all ten provinces to actively campaign for a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum on his controversial constitutional changes.
Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian and Minister for Local Government and Emergency Situations Armen Yeritsian met with the governors on Tuesday to instruct them to set up and lead Yes campaign offices in their respective regions.
The offices will be subordinate to the campaign headquarters that was formed by Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) last week. It is headed by Prime Minister Abrahamian, who will have as many as six deputies in that capacity. They include the chief of the presidential staff, Vigen Sargsian, and Hovannes Hovsepian, who runs the presidential Oversight Service tasked with monitoring and detecting possible corrupt practices in various government bodies.
Opponents of the constitutional reform have seized upon these appointments to accuse President Sarkisian of planning falsify the results of the December 6 referendum. Sarkisian and the HHK have heavily relied on their government resources to win disputed presidential and parliamentary elections held in Armenia over the past decade.
Vahram Baghdasarian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader and another deputy head of the Yes campaign, denied the opposition allegations. Baghdasarian claimed that the officials campaigning for the reform’s passage will not abuse their government positions.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Baghdasarian said that Vigen Sargsian will be in charge of the Yes campaign’s public relations, while Hovsepian will deal with “logistical work.”Yeritsian, for his part, will coordinate the work of the campaign offices to be set up by the regional governors, he said.
In a related development, the Armenian police announced on Wednesday the formation of a special task force charged with monitoring the proper conduct of the forthcoming referendum. The ad hoc structure is headed by Hunan Poghosian, a deputy chief of the national police service, and comprises several other high-ranking police officials.
One of them is Levon Yeranosian, the commander of Armenian interior troops. Yeranosian is notorious for personally ordering policemen to assault journalists and cameramen during last June’s break-up of a demonstration in Yerevan against an electricity price hike. He was also implicated late last year in the beating of two opposition activists.
Human rights activists were quick to express concern over the task force’s real mission, saying that the police could actually strive to cover up serious irregularities during the referendum. “This is all about bullying [reform opponents,]” one of them, Zhanna Aleksanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “It’s clear that the police are gearing up for fresh crackdowns.”
Hovannes Sahakian, a senior HHK parliamentarian, dismissed these concerns. “I think it’s a quite positive development and one should not look for something else,” he said.