By Emil Danielyan
An opinion poll released over the weekend suggests that less than 10 percent of the residents of Yerevan, which is home to at least one third of Armenia’s population, are familiar with constitutional amendments prepared by their government.
Vox Populi, an independent polling organization that conducted the survey, said only 9 percent of over 600 respondents in the capital have decided to take part in a planned referendum on the changes drafted by President Robert Kocharian and his leading political allies.
The Armenian authorities will put on the referendum, expected next year, a revised version of a package of amendments rejected by voters in May 2003. They say the amendments would curtail Kocharian’s sweeping powers and strengthen human rights safeguards in the basic law.
The Armenian opposition, however, strongly denies this, saying that Kocharian would only gain more powers as a result. The opposition leaders are certain to urge the electorate to vote against the package.
The findings of the poll show that the authorities still have a long way to go before winning sufficient public support for their proposed constitutional reform. The majority of those polled by Vox Populi said they are unaware of its details. Only 8 percent said they know what the amendments are all about. Public awareness of the issue could even be lower in the areas outside Yerevan where access to the mass media is much more limited.
Almost a third of the respondents stated that they have already decided to boycott the referendum, with another 15 percent saying that they are likely to do so.
Reform of the current constitution enacted in 1995 was one of the conditions for Armenia’s hard-won accession to the Council of Europe about four years ago. In a resolution adopted last week, the organization’s Parliamentary Assembly urged Yerevan to “rapidly prepare draft amendments to the Constitution, present them to the Council of Europe in 2004 for expert appraisal and organize a referendum as soon as possible and in any event by June 2005 at the latest.”