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Prosecutors See No Hard Evidence Of Referendum Fraud

By Karine Kalantarian and Astghik Bedevian

Armenian law-enforcement authorities lack “concrete facts” to prosecute anyone in connection with serious fraud reported during last month’s disputed constitutional referendum, Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian said on Tuesday.

Hovsepian revealed that the only person facing referendum-related criminal prosecution at the moment is a female opposition supporter who allegedly hit a state television reporter during an opposition rally held in the run-up to the November 27 vote.

“I am not a politician and can not make statements. I can only draw conclusions, make assertions only on the basis of facts substantiated with evidence. As a result of inspections carried out by us, no evidence has been found which would give me reason to confirm what has been said,” he told a news conference, referring to instances of fraud reported by local and foreign observers, opposition activists and the media.

The Office of Prosecutor-General has requested and received written reports on vote irregularities from parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, Central Election Commission (CEC) chairman Garegin Azarian and representatives of the opposition National Unity Party (AMK). Hovsepian dismissed them as “either analyses or good wishes” that are short on specifics.

“No individual or structure has presented us with protocols of violations, protests or other documents, explanations or applications,” he said.

State prosecutors also claim to be examining 25 referendum-related articles that appeared in Armenian newspapers. Hovsepian said the process is still going on but hinted strongly that it will not result in any criminal cases against officials that were involved in the conduct of the poll.

Armenia’s main opposition groups are reluctant to cooperate with law-enforcement authorities in their stated probe of the reported ballot stuffing and other irregularities, saying that the government itself orchestrated what they see as massive vote rigging. They point to the fact that nobody was prosecuted for electoral fraud following the previous Armenian elections that were marred by similar fraud reports.

Opposition leaders also argue that Hovsepian can not conduct an objective inquiry because he actively campaigned for the passage of the Armenian authorities’ constitutional amendments through his Nig-Aparan organization. The influential prosecutor provoked a controversy on the eve of the referendum when he threatened to prosecute opposition members of the election commissions who would boycott the process.

Observers from the Council of Europe cast doubt on the credibility of the official referendum results, noting a sharp contrast between an unusually high turnout reported by the CEC and deserted polling stations. The observers as well as the United States and the European Union urged the Armenian authorities to investigate the reported fraud.

Both the U.S. and the EU have endorsed the content of the constitutional package drafted by President Robert Kocharian and his governing coalition. The highly controversial way in which those amendments have been enacted was played down on Tuesday by one of the coalition leaders, deputy parliament speaker Vahan Hovannisian. He hailed the referendum as the coalition’s most important achievement in 2005, saying that the old constitution hampered Armenia’s development.

“That iron box had to be broken,” Hovannisian told reporters. “Of course, it could have been broken more nicely. But [objections that the referendum] went a bit wrong are not important.”

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