Election authorities in Armenia say political parties and groups may already now start campaigning ahead of a constitutional referendum that will take place on December 6.
But during its weekend meeting the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) said that for now it did not apply to television and radio, where free and paid political ads will be allowed to be run later on.
CEC Chairman Tigran Mukuchian said that until then the parliamentary factions may use other means to promote their messages.
“Campaigning has more options [than just television and radio]. It may be meetings with voters, different events,” he explained.
Mukuchian also said that in the meantime the number of voters will be specified and after that electoral districts will be formed. He said that the law on referendums also enables international observers to take part in the monitoring of the process.
If passed, the constitutional amendments backed by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) as well as two of the three opposition factions in the Armenian parliament will turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic with a strong prime minister and a largely ceremonial president.
The reform opponents maintain that the proposed amendments to the Armenian Constitution are aimed at enabling President Serzh Sarkisian to indefinitely stay in power in a different capacity after the end of his second and final presidential term in 2018.
Sarkisian has denied this, saying that he will not become prime minister or parliament speaker in case of Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic. The president, his HHK and other political allies say that such a radical change would, on the contrary, decentralize power and facilitate the country’s democratization.
To pass, the amendments will have to be approved by the majority of referendum participants making up at least one-quarter of Armenia’s 2.5 million or so eligible voters. Sarkisian and his political allies will thus need to garner at least 620,000 votes.
The HHK has already promised a clean vote, but most opposition groups in Armenia are skeptical about that promise, pointing at the experience of previous elections that they claim were marred by rigging.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) last week, Gianni Buquicchio, the head of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, also described Armenia’s previous elections as falling short of international standards.
“I hope that from now on elections in Armenia will be free, fair and in full conformity with international standards,” Buquicchio said.
CEC Chairman Mukuchian disagreed with this. “Like all the elections that were organized by the Central Electoral Commission in the past, this referendum will be organized and held in full conformity with the requirements of the election code and the law on referendums,” Armenia’s top election official emphasized.