An Armenian opposition alliance on Friday urged voters to go to the polls in large numbers in order to thwart President Serzh Sarkisian’s controversial constitutional reform, insisting that it is aimed at extending his rule beyond 2018.
Rallying thousands of supporters in Yerevan, the No Front coalition of reform opponents drew parallels between Armenia’s December 6 referendum on the proposed constitutional changes and a 1988 plebiscite in Chile held by the Latin American nation’s military ruler, General Augusto Pinochet. Most Chileans voted against Pinochet’s plans to stay in power for eight more years, predetermining his subsequent resignation.
“It is obvious that an unprecedented situation has emerged in Armenia. The people’s active participation and a No vote in the referendum would put Serzh Sarkisian in the same position in which the people of Chile put Augusto Pinochet in 1988,” declared Levon Zurabian of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), the key member of the alliance.
Zurabian said that a high turnout by Chileans opposed to continued military rule is what prevented Pinochet from rigging that vote. The Sarkisian administration will likewise find it extremely hard to falsify the referendum results if at least 70 percent of voters in Armenia come out against Sarkisian’s constitutional amendments, he said.
“If few people turn out, our proxies will have nothing to defend,” Zurabian warned before the crowd marched through downtown Yerevan, chanting “No!” and “Serzhik go away!”
Most Armenians have so far shown little visible interest in the issue as evidenced relatively modest attendance at public gatherings held by both opponents and supporters of the changes envisaging the country’s transformation into a parliamentary republic.
Addressing the opposition crowd in the city’s Liberty Square, Zurabian urged voters to “put aside apathy and disillusionment” and “crush Serzh Sarkisian with a No vote in the polling stations and then on the street.”
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service after the speech, the opposition leader admitted that many of them are currently “a bit passive.” But he insisted that the No Front can significantly boost popular interest in the referendum in the next two weeks. He claimed that the overwhelming majority of Armenians have already decided not to back the amendments drafted by the presidential administration.
In his speech, Zurabian said that the No Front is also making contingency plans for the referendum’s possible falsification by the authorities. He said the alliance would unveil them at a rally scheduled for December 7, the day after the referendum.
Some of the other, more radical groups aligned in the No Front are more skeptical about the opposition’s ability to scuttle the constitutional changes through the ballot box, putting the emphasis on street protests instead. Their separate grouping called the New Armenia Public Salvation Front plans to launch a campaign of “civil disobedience” on December 1. So far it has attracted fewer people to its rallies than the HAK has.
Zurabian played down these differences, saying that the different opposition actions only “complement each other.”