The Armenian authorities will do “everything” to ensure that the upcoming referendum on Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic is free and fair, a leading member of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) said on Friday.
Vahram Baghdasarian, who leads the HHK’s parliamentary faction, insisted that the authorities will not seek to push through corresponding constitutional amendments at any cost.
“I don’t expect anything very explosive,” Baghdasarian said of the referendum scheduled for December 6. “If the referendum doesn’t pass [the amendments] we have an existing constitution and it’s very good.”
Baghdasarian claimed at the same time that the amendments drafted by a presidential commission already enjoy a high degree of public support. He argued that they are also backed by not only the HHK but also most of the other political parties represented in the Armenian parliament.
The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), a vocal opponent of Sarkisian’s constitutional reform, downplayed the significance of that multi-partisan support. “The supporters of the constitutional changes are a very narrow circle,” said Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s parliamentary leader. “It’s the ruling party headed by Serzh Sarkisian, his constitutional commission … Dashnaktsutyun and those political forces that were bullied, bribed or lured into joining that camp.”
Zurabian also brushed side Baghdasarian’s assurances that the authorities are committed to preventing serious fraud in the upcoming referendum. He said that the authorities are prepared for “the most serious illegal steps” against the No Front coalition of opposition and civic groups campaigning against the reform. The HAK is part of that coalition.
Armenia has held two constitutional referendums in the past and they both were marred by opposition allegations of vote rigging. The first such vote took place in 1995, resulting in the adoption of the country’s existing constitution drafted by the political team of then President Levon Ter-Petrosian. The latter is currently the top leader of the opposition HAK.
Ter-Petrosian’s successor, Robert Kocharian, amended the constitution in the other referendum held in 2005. Both Ter-Petrosian and Kocharian have denounced Sarkisian’s constitutional changes as an attempt to perpetuate his rule.