Opposition parties and civic groups campaigning against President Serzh Sarkisian’s controversial constitutional changes sought to put an optimistic spin on their joint effort as they again rallied supporters in Yerevan on Friday.
Their No Front coalition again attracted only several hundred people to the city’s Liberty Square not least because of heavy rain that continued throughout the rally. Its leaders repeated their claims Sarkisian wants to turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic in order to stay in power after completing his final presidential term in 2018.
Levon Zurabian, a leader of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), the most important of the opposition forces aligned in the grouping, insisted that most ordinary Armenians agree that Sarkisian wants to extend his rule through the constitutional reform.
“The people have very quickly understood this, and there is now an atmosphere of widespread mistrust in these constitutional changes,” Zurabian told the crowd.
He said this makes it practically impossible for Sarkisian to realize his plans without falsifying the December 6 referendum on the draft constitutional amendments. “That the authorities are already worried is a fact,” he added.
Zurabian claimed that the Armenian authorities will strive to achieve their desired outcome by buying votes, allowing multiple voting by their loyalists and miscounting ballots. He said the No Front can thwart such fraud with an “army of citizens prepared for a fight” in and outside polling stations.
“This must become a truly popular struggle,” Zurabian went on, appealing to both the HAK’s opposition allies and ordinary voters. The No Front should specifically start forming teams of proxies and monitors who would be deployed in Armenia’s 2,000 or so polling stations, he said.
Armen Grigorian of the You Won’t Pass It pressure group, which helped to cobble together the anti-government grouping last month, said in this regard that the No campaign will need 4,000 such activists on referendum day.
“A Yes vote [in the referendum] would mean Serzh Sarkisian will stay in power,” Grigorian said in his speech at the rally. “A No vote will be an opportunity for change in this country.”
Sarkisian has denied through his political allies planning to rig the referendum. Senior members of his ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) also claim that the authorities will not use their government resources to secure a Yes vote.
Opposition figures point out, however, that the Yes campaign is led by Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian and six other senior state officials acting as his deputies. They include the chiefs of Sarkisian’s staff and Oversight Service.
Earlier this week, Abrahamian met with the governors of Armenia’s ten provinces and instructed them to set up Yes campaign offices in their respective communities. None of these officials will take a leave of absence during the referendum campaign.
Zurabian claimed at the rally that the unusually large number of senior officials openly involved in the Yes campaign testifies to Sarkisian’s fears of a “sabotage” of the constitutional reform by key members of the presidential camp. This is why, he said, the president is making them personally responsible for enacting the amendments.