A radical opposition alliance reaffirmed on Tuesday its plans to use Armenia’s upcoming referendum for trying to topple President Serzh Sarkisian with sustained street protests that will begin in Yerevan on December 1.
Zhirayr Sefilian and other leaders of the New Armenia Public Salvation Front alliance urged people to join the planned campaign of “civil disobedience” as they held a rally in the southern town of Artashat. It attracted only several dozen people.
“What December 6 are they talking about?” Sefilian told the tiny crowd, referring to the date of the referendum. “What voting can there be under a dictatorship?”
“Civil disobedience actions will not stop until we throw the illegal regime out of our country,” another New Armenia leader shouted through a megaphone as the oppositionists marched through the town to raise local residents’ awareness of their campaign.
Sefilian downplayed the poor attendance at the rally, attributing it to the fact that Artashat and surrounding villages are widely regarded as Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian’s de facto fiefdom. “We all know how this anti-national system is trying to suppress our people,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“I am confident that a necessary number of people will gather in Yerevan and that we will launch our push,” he said.
Sefilian’s Founding Parliament movement, the driving force behind New Armenia, already tried unsuccessfully to topple Sarkisian this spring. It failed to pull large crowds in Yerevan after Sefilian and four other Founding Parliament leaders were arrested on controversial charges. They all were set free a month later.
The mostly small groups aligned in New Armenia are also part of the No Front, a more broad-based opposition coalition campaigning against Sarkisian’s controversial constitutional changes. The Armenian National Congress (HAK), the key member of the coalition, favors a less radical agenda, focusing on getting most Armenians to vote against the amendments.
Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s deputy chairman, expressed confidence on Tuesday that the vast majority of voters will heed the opposition calls when they go to the polls on December 6. He claimed that confidential opinion polls commissioned by the government testify to a grave lack of popular support for Sarkisian’s plans to turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic.
“Our private contacts with government loyalists show that the situation is simply disastrous for the authorities,” Zurabian told reporters after a meeting with the heads of No Front offices opened across Armenia.
Zurabian also said that the HAK and its opposition allies will unveil a new plan of joint actions at the No Front’s next rally in Yerevan scheduled for Friday. He declined to give its details.