Armenia’s political leadership has insisted that it will not resort to fraud and use government levers to win the upcoming referendum on controversial constitutional changes sought by it.
“I would rather cut off my two hands than allow the falsification of a single vote because that would mean erasing the entire life lived by us and all those values which we stand for,” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian declared during a referendum campaign fundraiser held by his Civil Contract Party in Yerevan late on Tuesday.
Pashinian again defended his administration’s push to oust the chairman and six other judges of Armenia’s nine-member Constitutional Court through the proposed amendments. He said that they do not “represent the people” and hamper far-reaching political reforms in the country.
Critics dismiss this explanation, saying that Pashinian is simply seeking to fill the country’s highest court with his loyalists.
The fundraiser, which journalists were not allowed to attend, marked the official start of the ruling party’s campaign for a “Yes” vote in the referendum scheduled for April 5. The campaign is managed by the party’s nominal chairman, Minister for Local Government Suren Papikian.
Papikian said on Wednesday that Pashinian and other Civil Contract figures holding senior positions in the central and local governments will be actively campaigning for a referendum victory in the coming weeks. He promised that Pashinian’s political team will not use its administrative resources to secure around 650,000 votes needed for the adoption of the constitutional amendments.
Papikian said that government officials abusing their powers for that purpose would be “strictly punished.” “Let nobody, be it a city or village mayor, do the authorities such a disservice,” he told a news conference. “We don’t need that.”
Armenia’s former leadership routinely pressured public sector employees and exploited its administrative resources otherwise to win elections and referendums marred by fraud allegations. Its election campaigns were usually managed by Hovik Abrahamian, a once influential minister for local government who also served as prime minister from 2014-2016 during President Serzh Sarkisian’s rule.
Some bitter critics of the current government have speculated that Papikian, whose ministry oversees Armenian provincial administrations and local government bodies, will take advantage of his post in a similar fashion.
The 33-year-old minister categorically ruled out such a possibility. “Please do not compare me to Hovik Abrahamian,” he said. “I see no similarities apart from the position held by us.”