The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) on Thursday criticized Western powers for not explicitly challenging the official results of Sunday’s disputed referendum on President Serzh Sarkisian’s constitutional changes.
Levon Zurabian, an HAK leader, complained that the U.S. and European Union missions in Yerevan have only called on the Armenian authorities to investigate serious irregularities reported during the vote.
“Let those embassies know that Serzh Sarkisian is playing the following game. With one hand, he organizes those petty criminals to falsify the referendum … and with the other, he orders law-enforcement bodies to ‘very seriously’ investigate those crimes,” Zurabian told about 200 opposition supporters who gathered in the city’s Liberty Square. The West should not fall for this “trickery,” he said.
The U.S. Embassy and the EU Delegation in Armenia said on Tuesday that identifying and punishing those responsible for fraud is essential for the legitimacy of Sarkisian’s controversial constitutional reform. The U.S. mission described allegations of vote rigging voiced by opposition forces and local observers as “credible.”
The EU Delegation reiterated its calls on Thursday in a statement which it said was also endorsed by the Yerevan-based ambassadors of EU member states. “Without a transparent investigation of the alleged frauds as well as remediation if these are confirmed, the referendum would be a missed opportunity to increase the confidence in, and the integrity of, electoral processes in Armenia,” it said.
The EU statement also said: “Should the results of the referendum be officially confirmed, we underline that it is important to implement the new constitution.”
Zurabian said he is “a bit surprised” by the Western reactions. “Let’s assume that [the authorities] catch and punish vote falsifiers: 50 or 100 persons, for instance,” he said. “Would that change anything? Would the people trust in the referendum’s legitimacy?”
“The people voted ‘No’ and they know that very well,” added the opposition leader. “If [the authorities] declare the victory of the ‘Yes’ vote while punishing all vote falsifiers, will we be happy with that? Of course not.”
Law-enforcement authorities have already opened a number of criminal cases in connection with the alleged fraud. But they have reported no arrests so far.
The HAK and its opposition allies claim that the authorities rigged the referendum to push through the sweeping amendments to the Armenian constitution and thereby enable Sarkisian to extend his rule. Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) denies this.
According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), over 63 percent of Armenians voted for the amendments envisaging Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic. The CEC put voter turnoutat 50.5 percent, just enough to make the vote valid. The HAK says, however, that no more than one-third of the country’s 2.5 million eligible voters cast ballots on Sunday.