The Central Election Commission (CEC) rejected on Sunday opposition demands to annul the official results of the disputed December 6 referendum in Armenia, insisting that voters overwhelmingly backed President Serzh Sarkisian’s constitutional amendments.
The CEC reaffirmed the results in response to appeals lodged by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and several non-governmental organizations. Its pro-government chairman, Tigran Mukuchian, and other members dismissed as unconvincing purported evidence of serious fraud submitted by the appellants.
The decision followed a four-hour meeting during which representatives of the HAK and the civic groups made their case for the scrapping of the referendum results. They insisted that the Armenian authorities rigged the vote to realize Sarkisian’s controversial plans to transform the country into a parliamentary republic.
“The reported and proven scale of violations is enough to declare the referendum totally falsified,” Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s deputy chairman, told the CEC. “We certainly don’t think that you will satisfy our demand, no matter how many convincing and truthful facts we submit, because it is clear to us that Serzh Sarkisian had issued an order long ago and your mission today is to execute that order and validate the referendum results.”
According to the official vote tally, over 63 percent of voters backed the constitutional reform. The CEC put voter turnout at about 51 percent, just enough to make the referendum valid.
The HAK claims that only up to one-third of Armenia’s 2.5 eligible voters cast ballots on December 6 and that 70 percent of them voted against the proposed amendments. The official results have also been dismissed as fraudulent by a coalition of civic groups that deployed hundreds of monitors in polling stations across the country on referendum day.
“The public has no serious doubts regarding the outcome of the referendum,” Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), insisted on Monday. “For all the reported violations, it has to be admitted that the [conduct of the] referendum corresponded to Armenia’s international obligations.
“As a result of ballot recounts conducted in several precincts, the number of ‘Yes’ votes actually rose,” Sharmazanov said.
The HHK and its political allies, the Prosperous Armenia and Dashnaktsutyun parties, effectively blocked recounts in many other polling stations which were demanded by the HAK and the opposition Zharangutyun party. The latter say that vote rigging there was particularly blatant.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday, Zurabian reaffirmed the HAK’s intention to challenge the referendum results in the Constitutional Court. The opposition party needs the backing of at least 27 parliament deputies in order to lodge such an appeal. It holds only a handful of seats in the National Assembly.