The Armenian National Congress (HAK) pledged on Tuesday to closely cooperate with other opposition forces in trying to prevent a possible falsification of the upcoming referendum on President Serzh Sarkisian’s constitutional changes.
Its deputy chairman, Levon Zurabian, said the HAK and Raffi Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party are ready to share their seats in electoral commissions with their political allies also fiercely opposed to the controversial changes. He singled out You Won’t Pass It, a non-partisan pressure group that was set up this summer to campaign against the constitutional reform.
The group was the driving force behind the formation last month of a coalition of about three dozen opposition parties and civic organizations which believe that the reform is aimed at prolonging Sarkisian’s rule. Both the HAK and Zharangutyun are part of the umbrella structure called the No Front.
“Usually, the authorities make sure that fraudsters have an overwhelming majority in the election commissions,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “It’s very important to have in every polling station two or three persons who will work together in countering them.”
Zurabian insisted that the reform opponents will have enough people to monitor voting in all of about 2,000 polling stations across Armenia on December 6.
Armen Martirosian, a Zharangutyun leader, acknowledged the need for a joint anti-fraud effort but seemed skeptical about its impact, saying that voting rigging in Armenia will remain the norm as long as Sarkisian is in power. Martirosian said Zharangutyun will therefore concentrate on street protests in the run-up to the referendum. He claimed that they could force the authorities to not only call off the referendum but also step down.
Earlier this month, Zharangutyun joined another, smaller grouping of forces opposed to the constitutional reform. Their New Armenia coalition has pledged to try to use the referendum for toppling Sarkisian and his administration.
New Armenia’s members include Founding Parliament, a radical opposition group that already tried unsuccessfully to effect regime change this spring. The campaign ended in failure due to a government crackdown on its leaders and extremely poor attendance at its rallies in Yerevan.
Founding Parliament’s top leader, Zhirayr Sefilian, said that New Armenia plans to launch a nationwide campaign of “civil disobedience” on December 1. He said it will be aimed at scuttling the conduct of the referendum.
The Sarkisian administration seems untroubled by the opposition threats. Parliament speaker Galust Sahakian, who is also a deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), said the opposition No campaign will end in another disillusionment for Armenians unhappy with their government.
“They will again trouble people,” said Sahakian. “Tens of thousands of people will go home [in the wake of the referendum] and think that nothing can be done.”
Sahakian also claimed that contrary to opposition claims most Armenians are supportive of the constitutional changes that would turn their country into a parliamentary republic.