The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and its allies downplayed on Tuesday the significance of apparent U.S. threats to blacklist individuals responsible for reported irregularities that marred the referendum on President Serzh Sarkisian’s constitutional changes.
The U.S. Embassy in Armenia warned on Monday that it could “assess whether any individuals who directly interfered in the integrity of the December 6 electoral process can participate in Embassy programs or activities.”
Commenting on the statement, Galust Sahakian, an HHK deputy chairman and the parliament speaker, said the Armenian authorities “do not respond to threats with threats.” “We are silent not because we have nothing to say but because it’s appropriate,” he told reporters. “If there were indeed irregularities, we too will be interested in seeing them investigated in accordance with the law.”
Asked whether the HHK is worried that some of its prominent members might face U.S. visa bans, Sahakian joked: “I think that the Republicans will win in the United States this time around and this problem will be solved.”
A spokesman for the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest parliamentary force, insisted that the U.S. statement was not as tough as it is presented by the Armenian media. “The U.S. simply expressed concern,” said Vahan Babayan.
“I don’t think that what happened was extraordinary,” agreed Aghvan Vartanian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), another major backer of Sarkisian’s controversial constitutional reform.
“The main [U.S.] demand is to fully investigate credible reports of fraud,” said Vartanian. “We ourselves have said that if there were indeed violations [during the referendum] they must be comprehensively investigated and all guilty individuals must be punished.”
The HHK, the BHK and Dashnaktsutyun maintain that violations reported during the ballot were not serious enough to affect its official results indicating a popular “Yes” vote for the proposed amendments to the Armenian constitution.The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Zharangutyun party claim, however, that the voted was rigged.
Not surprisingly, both opposition parties represented in parliament hailed the U.S. warning. “That statement means that America is taking the internal processes in Armenia very seriously,” Raffi Hovannisian, Zharangutyun’s U.S.-born leader, told an open-air news conference. “They are talking about pre-sanctions.”
“If America, Europe and other countries want to belatedly promote democratic principles in Armenia we can only welcome that,” Hovannisian said.
The HAK’s deputy chairman, Levon Zurabian, was more cautious, saying that Washington should have gone farther and openly questioned the legitimacy of the referendum results. “That is certainly a serious step but it’s not sufficient,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “In my view, the scale of vote rigging and the rejection of the popular will by the authorities should have received a stronger response.”
In three statements issued since the referendum, the U.S. mission put the emphasis on transparent and full investigations into reported irregularities.
Armenian law-enforcement authorities have opened 14 criminal cases in connection with the fraud allegations but have not arrested or charged anyone yet.