Former President Robert Kocharian alleged through a spokesman on Wednesday “systematic” fraud in Armenia’s constitutional referendum, saying that President Serzh Sarkisian did not win a popular mandate to turn the country into a parliamentary republic.
“What happened can hardly be called an expression of popular will on the constitutional changes,” Kocharian’s press secretary, Victor Soghomonian, told his unofficial website, 2rd.am.
“The systematic nature of blatant violations registered by various political parties, civil movements, observers and media outlets deprives the referendum results of a popular perception of legitimacy,” Soghomonian charged in remarks that will likely deepen a rift between Sarkisian and his predecessor and erstwhile ally.
A senior representative of Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Vahram Baghdasarian, rejected the fraud claims. He said that that Sunday’s referendum was “incomparably” more democratic than national ballots held during the ex-president’s 1998-2008 rule.
“We have had no such precedents before in terms of voter turnout and public oversight [of voting,]” Baghdasarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). It is therefore “absolutely wrong” to challenge the legitimacy of the December 6 referendum, he said.
Throughout his presidency Kocharian was accused by his political opponents of rigging presidential and parliamentary elections. He also faced such allegations after pushing through a set of constitutional amendments in a referendum held in 2005. Incidentally, Sarkisian, a key member of the Kocharian administration, played a major role in the conduct of most of those ballots.
Kocharian has been highly critical of Sarkisian’s more radical amendments that will transform Armenia into a parliamentary republic. He said in the run-up to the vote that they would indefinitely keep the ruling HHK in power “regardless of its popularity.”
Armenian observers believe that the parliamentary system of government will further complicate Kocharian’s possible to return to power or active politics in the future. The ex-president has not ruled out the possibility of such a comeback.