Campaigning ahead of Armenia’s constitutional referendum officially ended on Friday, with the ruling Republican Party (HHK) again expressing confidence that President Serzh Sarkisian will win popular support for the country’s transition to the parliamentary system of government.
The HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, predicted that Sunday’s referendum will result in “incomparably more” votes for the constitutional amendments drafted by Sarkisian than against them. He dismissed statements to the contrary made by the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and other opposition groups campaigning against the proposed changes.
Sharmazanov argued that they have pulled small crowds during their rallies held over the past few weeks. “A wedding party attracts more people than an HAK rally,” he scoffed at a news conference. He specifically pointed to the number of people who attended the HAK’s latest rally held in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on Thursday.
Addressing that gathering, one of the opposition party’s leaders, Levon Zurabian, said the HAK and its opposition allies have managed to convince most Armenians that the constitutional reform is only aimed at extending Sarkisian’s rule beyond 2018. Zurabian claimed that the authorities cannot secure a “Yes” vote without falsifying the referendum results.
The New Armenia Public Salvation Front, a more radical opposition bloc holding a nonstop sit-in the same square, has attracted even smaller crowds so far. Even so, its leaders insisted on Friday that they will succeed in toppling Sarkisian very soon.
One of them, Zhirayr Sefilian, announced that New Armenia will launch its “decisive” actions immediately after the closure of the polls on Sunday. “We will spend the night here,” he told reporters. “There will be marches towards various buildings, street closures, pressures and so on.”
“If they try to force a ‘Yes’ vote …the people will start imposing their will and ensuring the annulment [of referendum results,]” said Sefilian.
New Armenia and the HAK maintain that the parliamentary system would enable Sarkisian to remain in power after his final presidential term ends in 2018. Sarkisian gave them more ammunition on Thursday when he declined to explicitly reaffirm his earlier pledges not to become prime minister or parliament speaker if Armenia is transformed into a parliamentary republic.
Leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an opposition party strongly supporting the constitutional reform, insisted on Friday that Sarkisian will quit government in 2018 if he enacts his constitutional changes. They also reiterated their view that those changes would significantly strengthen democracy and the rule of law in the country.
“If we don’t change this system, this crisis will deepen further and nothing will change in the lives of our citizens,” said Dashnaktsutyun’s Armen Rustamian.