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Armenian Coalition Gearing For Referendum Campaign

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  • Armenian Coalition Gearing For Referendum Campaign

    By Astghik Bedevian and Anna Saghabalian, Armenia
    Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
    Oct 6 2005

    Armenia's three governing parties are setting up a joint structure that
    will coordinate the unfolding campaign for the passage of President
    Robert Kocharian's constitutional amendments at a referendum next

    Leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun),
    the Republican Party (HHK) and the Orinats Yerkir Party told RFE/RL
    on Thursday that they have already formed a skeleton governing board
    of the campaign headquarters. Each of them will be represented in
    it by two or three senior members. Deputy parliament speaker Tigran
    Torosian is the most well-known of them.

    It is expected that the coalition partners will be joined by other
    pro-Kocharian parties and non-governmental organizations. Powerful
    government officials are also likely to become involved in the
    effort. But the Armenian authorities remain undecided on whether the
    "yes" campaign will be managed by a single person. The Republicans
    are pushing for its collective leadership.

    The campaign coordinators will have to grapple with a persisting
    lack of popular interest in a long list of constitutional amendments
    that will be put to the vote on November 27. They will also face a
    stiff competition with Armenia's leading opposition parties which
    are joining forces to thwart the reform which they say is aimed at
    "legitimizing the regime and prolonging its life."

    The HHK's parliamentary leader, Galust Sahakian, said he believes the
    authorities have enough time to win over the apathetic public. "The
    public usually becomes active on the eve of elections," he argued.

    Other coalition leaders said they will try to end the apathy by
    securing the involvement of prominent Armenian intellectuals,
    artists and other public figures in the "yes" campaign. "We attach
    great importance to working with the intelligentsia so that broad
    sections of the population understand the significance of the issue,"
    said Dashnaktsutyun's Levon Mkrtchian.

    Samvel Nikoyan, another Republican leader, agreed, saying that the
    "yes" camp needs to enlist the support of "people who are perceived
    positively by the society." He said it will also heavily rely on the
    so-called "unions of compatriots" which comprise prominent natives
    of various region's Armenia.

    The most influential of such organizations, Nig-Aparan, is led by
    Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian. It managed last May to organize
    a controversial mass circle dance around Armenia's highest mountain
    with the help of various government agencies, law-enforcement bodies
    and wealthy businessmen. Kocharian indicated recently that the "yes"
    campaigners should draw inspiration from the dance attended by tens
    of thousands of people.

    To pass, the constitutional amendments must be backed by at least one
    third of Armenia's 2.4 million eligible voters. Opposition leaders
    have long charged that the authorities grossly inflate the number
    to facilitate falsifications during presidential and parliamentary
    elections. Some oppositionists say the authorities have decided to
    remove hundreds of thousands of names from the vote registers ahead
    of the referendum.

    Sahakian did not deny this. "It would be good for us if the voter
    lists were cleaned up," he said.