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Opposition Leader Urges Referendum Boycott

By Karine Kalantarian and Astghik Bedevian

The Armenian opposition should try to block the passage of President Robert Kocharian’s constitutional amendments by urging the people to boycott the upcoming referendum, one of its prominent leaders said on Friday.

Vazgen Manukian of the National Democratic Union (AZhM) said that a low voter turnout would make it more difficult for the Armenian authorities to rig the referendum results than even a massive “no” vote.

“Saying no would mean expressing an opinion about some document,” argued Manukian. “It would mean being drawn into a game dictated by the regime. It would also be difficult to determine which of the [referendum] participants voted for or against the amendments. We know from our past experience that the authorities can falsify any document.”

Armenia’s leading opposition groups have already decided to campaign against the passage of Kocharian’s Western-backed package of constitutional changes aimed at curtailing his sweeping powers. Both the Artarutyun, of which the AZhM is a member, and the National Unity Party (AMK) plan to hold rallies across the country ahead of the November referendum. But they have yet to decide whether to urge supporters to boycott it or vote against the proposed amendments.

The opposition leaders are also convinced that Kocharian and his coalition can not win sufficient popular support for the constitutional reform without vote rigging. Manukian said he believes the opposition leaders must trigger a popular “uprising” in case the referendum is rigged.

To pass, the amendments must be backed by a majority of voters taking part in the referendum. That majority must make up at least one third of Armenia’s 2.4 million eligible voters.

The United States, the European Union and especially the Council of Europe say the reform would facilitate Armenia’s democratization and European integration. Manukian, however, repeated opposition arguments that the existing flawed constitution is not the main obstacle to free elections and the rule of law in Armenia.

“This state is sick,” he told a news conference. “The source of the illness must be looked for not within the society but the government. We have an uncontrolled, unaccountable and narcissist regime for which democracy, human rights and rule of law are false concepts.”

The forthcoming referendum is thought to be the main reason for Artarutyun’s and the AMK’s plans to end their 18-month boycott of parliament. Their leaders make no secret of their plans to use the parliament podium for the “no” campaign.

“We have received numerous calls from people demanding that we unmask the regime’s face more actively,” said Victor Dallakian, another Artarutyun leader. “We are ready to do that.”

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