By now the polls have long closed for the vote on the Armenian constitutional referendum. The government was expecting that most if not all of the approximately 2.4 million registered voters turn up at their polling stations to cast a “Yes” vote. The government opposition, in a united effort, naturally urged voters to vote against the referendum or not at all.
It’s important to understand why this vote is so crucial. First and foremost the entire intention of passing constitutional reforms is to show the world that Armenia was taking the necessary steps to become more “democratic,” primarily by reducing the powers of the president and instead passing certain decision-making procedures on to the Armenian National Assembly. Updates to the constitution were strongly urged by the Council of Europe (CE), and President Kocharian’s administration was more than willing to comply. Member parties of the pro-Kocharian coalition, namely the Republican party, Country of Law (Orinats Yerkir), and ARF-Dashnaktsutiun, were quoted in the printed press and on television urging voters to cast a “Yes” ballot basically because it would be good for them—no other conducive message was conveyed from what I read.
Individuals representing the opposition—a ragtag, disorganized solidarity movement that has no concrete leadership or agenda—opposed the constitutional amendments, claiming that basically a “Yes” vote would be a vote for Kocharian and not for the future of Armenia. They also claimed that the amendments would not amount to anything, and thus concluded that voters should basically boycott the elections. This last demand seemed idiotic to me since it is the vote that counts—the vote determines what the people want rather than an effectively blank ballot which means nothing. However, they concluded that since there would undoubtedly be election fraud anyway, a boycott would possibly lead to an overall negative outcome, since the law stipulates that there must be votes cast by at least one-thirds of registered voters to have a valid election.
The government also sponsored a huge propaganda effort for people to vote “Yes”—an information office was set up on the corner of Tumanian and Abovyan, and university students were out on the streets encouraging people to vote—I was approached about two weeks ago. Opposition interests however were supposedly refused when requesting to air on broadcast television paid public service announcements denouncing a “Yes” vote. Most television stations if not all are pro-government.
An interesting turn of events occurred on Friday, September 25 when a rally was held in front of the Opera House lead by popular renegade and former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovhanisian, who had effectively retired from politics. He also conveyed for the most part the same message as other opposition forces, claiming that the government was run by a bunch of gangsters and thieves and so forth. An interesting thing he noted was that a “Yes” vote would encourage the possibility of Armenian diasporan citizens to have dual citizenship and thus vote, which he sees as being detrimental since this would be dangerous for Armenia’s socio-political climate. Basically you would have people voting for candidates or issues without necessarily having a clue as to what the consequences would be for citizens actually living in Armenia, and I generally agree with this point. But Hovhanisian is a Diasporan himself, having been born in the US who was granted Armenian citizenship only in 2001, so this stance seems hypocritical to some degree.
I read over the proposed constitution as well as the amendments. The article that troubled me the most (which has not been amended) empowers the National Assembly under advisement of the president to change the country’s borders without holding a referendum. This would thus allow the government to effectively single-handedly end once and for all the Karabagh conflict by agreeing with the Azeri side as to what the Armenia-Azerbajan borders should be.
Article 81 reads that:
Upon the recommendation of the President of Republic the National
1) declare amnesty;
2) ratify, suspend or denounce the international treaties of the
Republic of Armenia.
The National Assembly shall ratify those international treaties:
a) which are of political or military nature or stipulate changes of
the state borders,
b) which relate to human rights, freedoms and obligations,
c) which stipulate financial commitments for the Republic of Armenia,
d) application of which shall bring about legislative amendments or
adoption of a new law, or stipulate norms contravening the laws,
e) which prescribe ratification,
f) in other cases defined by law.
3) resolves on declaring war and proclaiming peace. In the event when
convening a sitting of the National Assembly is impossible, the
President of Republic shall solve the issue of declaring war.
The National Assembly can annul the progress of measures prescribed by
Clauses 13 and 14 of Article 55 of the Constitution.
This article alone is dangerous as it suppresses the voice of the people in deciding what the final outcome would be regarding Karabagh in a referendum. Armenian citizens would effectively have no say as to what their nation’s borders should be, which is wrong I believe. Another troubling amendment, Article 56.1, stipulates that the president is immune and cannot face criminal or other charges during or after his term in office.
Recent news reports are already confirming that the government has already claimed victory, although not all ballots have been counted. In the next day or so the final outcome will have been determined, albeit with huge protest from either side respective to a “Yes” or “No” winning vote.
Basically the Armenian people need to decide what they want. This election hopefully will demonstrate that decision fairly and honestly, but knowing Armenians all too well, it will be difficult to determine what the truth will actually be.
Labels: Nagorno-Karabagh, Personal Experiences, Politics, Social and Cultural, Thoughts and Musings