By Astghik BedevianThe potentially tense referendum on Western-backed amendments to Armenia’s constitution drafted by President Robert Kocharian and his leading allies will likely take place on November 20, officials said on Tuesday.
The date was “tentatively” set by President Robert Kocharian and leaders of his three-party governing coalition at a meeting late on Monday, some of its participants told RFE/RL.
Levon Mkrtchian, the parliamentary leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), confirmed that the meeting focused on unfolding preparations for the referendum. But he declined to give any details.
“There is a need to propagate the constitutional amendments and the coalition will decide on ways of doing that,” said Mkrtchian. He said it is still not clear if Dashnaktsutyun and the two other pro-Kocharian parties in government will set up joint campaign offices across Armenia.
The referendum has been repeatedly postponed by the Armenian authorities despite pressure from the Council of Europe. In a resolution on Armenia adopted last year, the organization’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) called for the vote to be held in June “at the latest.” However, Kocharian and the coalition were still working on their package of constitutional amendments as of July. The Armenian parliament approved their final version only on September 1.
“The process is going according to plan,” said Mkrtchian. “The constitutional draft is really good and we can present it to our people in a quite substantiated manner.”
But other coalition leaders are less sanguine. Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian admitted on Tuesday that most Armenians remain apathetic about the reform.
According to Manuk Gasparian, a maverick opposition lawmaker, the coalition parties’ involvement in the referendum campaign will be marginal for Kocharian. “He will simply rely on people who always supported him during elections,” Gasparian claimed. “They know the methods of [electoral] fraud. There is just a few of them. They have been generously rewarded by the president with medals, land and posts.”
The Armenian opposition, which will campaign for a ‘no’ vote at the referendum, insists that the authorities can not push the constitutional changes through without irregularities. But coalition leaders say the vote will be free and fair.
The referendum, if it indeed occurs on November 20, will come two weeks after parliamentary elections in neighboring Azerbaijan that are expected to be closely watched by the international community. Both ballots may prove crucial for the success of international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
(Photolur photo: Levon Mkrtchian.)