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Armenians ‘Unaware Of Constitutional Reform’

By Anna Saghabalian

Less than one in ten Armenians knows what President Robert Kocharian and his ruling coalition want to change in Armenia’s post-Soviet constitution, according to an opinion poll released on Friday.

The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), a private think-tank which conducted the survey, said only 8.4 percent of 1,500 people randomly polled across the country were aware of the draft constitutional amendments put forward by Kocharian and his allies. About half of the respondents said they have only “heard” about them.

“Most people believe that the constitution is not being put into practice and is often violated,” said Stepan Safarian, an ACNIS analyst. “Quite naturally, the public does not care about the process of constitutional reform.”

The figures should be alarming for the authorities as they prepare to put their constitutional package to a referendum later this year. Kocharian’s first attempt to amend the Armenian constitution, widely criticized for vesting disproportionate powers in the presidency, failed to win sufficient popular support in May 2003.

The proposed changes are expected to be debated and endorsed by the Armenian parliament this spring. Their preliminary version was released last fall and strongly criticized by the opposition. Opposition leaders claim that Kocharian is seeking to increase his sweeping powers instead of curtailing them.

The ACNIS poll suggests that most Armenians believe that democracy is more important than the system of governance and that their main expectation from constitutional reform is additional safeguards against human rights abuses. Almost 40 percent said what matters the most is the proper enforcement of the existing constitution and laws.

The survey also shows widespread cynicism about the Armenian citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed right to elect and change their government, with almost 70 percent of respondents feeling that elections in their country are decided by government levers or money. About half of them view the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2003 as the most “dubious” in Armenia’s history, and only 10.6 percent considered flawed electoral legislation the main cause of chronic vote falsifications.

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