The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) accused Education Minister Armen Ashotian on Monday of forcing the directors and teachers of public schools to promote President Serzh Sarkisian’s controversial constitutional changes among voters.
Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s parliamentary leader, claimed that the school administrations are urging students’ parents to vote for those changes in next month’s referendum in violation of Armenian law.
“This is an extraordinary issue,” Zurabian said during a parliament session. He demanded that parliament speaker Galust Sahakian seek “explanations” from Ashotian.
Like Ashotian, Sahakian is a deputy chairman of Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Not surprisingly, he brushed aside Zurabian’s allegations.
“This is a provocative statement,” Sahakian told the oppositionist. “You cannot show any proof of schoolteachers committing such violations.”
Ashotian, who was present at the parliament session, also denied any pressure on school principals and teachers. Speaking to reporters, he accused the HAK leader of violating the “presumption of innocence.”
Zurabian stood by his allegations in separate comments to the press. “I want those school principals and teachers who carry out Armen Ashotian’s illegal orders to know that there is criminal liability for such actions,” he said.
Ashotian already came under fire from opposition groups last week when he began hosting a new political talk show on Armenian state television. The HAK and other opponents of the constitutional reform claim that the show is part of the Sarkisian administration’s intensifying referendum campaign. Ashotian insisted on Monday he is only acting as an “impartial” moderator of televised debates on various political issues.
Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian has faced similar opposition accusations after urging voters to back the proposed amendments to the Armenian constitution in a video ad that was posted on the Internet last week. Zurabian and other opposition figures have condemned the ad as a covert illegal order issued to military personnel.
Ohanian dismissed the opposition claims over the weekend, saying that he is campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote in the December 6 only as an Armenian citizen. “I think that the criticism is inappropriate especially given that the post of defense minister is a political one and I’m a member of a political team,” he told reporters.
Ohanian also insisted that the Armenian military is not and will not be involved in the referendum campaign in any way.
The HAK and its opposition allies likewise cried foul last month after Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian and several other senior government officials, including Ashotian, were named by the HHK to lead the “Yes” campaign. They said this is a clear indication that the ruling party will abuse of its government levers to push through the amendments. The HHK denies this.