For an Informed Public: Center wants to help voters make wise choices on Constitution

Students from six higher education institutions in Armenia want to help citizens make informed decisions on November 27 in the referendum on constitutional changes.

And so, since October 31, the students have organized an information center in the heart of Yerevan at 18 Abovian Street, where citizens can receive information before making their important decision.

The reception hall is open every day from 10:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., providing visitors with the Constitution draft and a brochure called “10 Questions about Constitutional Amendments”, which presents major points of reforms. It has also set up a toll-free phone (0 8000 8000) and an Internet site (www.ayo.am) for answering questions.

“We work purely on a voluntary basis,” says Artak Asatryan, a Ph.D. student at the RA State Academy for Governance. “Campaigning ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is not our aim. Our aim is only to inform. After that let people decide for themselves how to vote.”

The student personnel serving the citizens is comprised of 80 volunteer students from the schools of law at 6 higher educational institutions of Armenia who are well aware of all the renewed provisions of the constitution.

Gayane Hakobyan, a student at the Armenian State Pedagogical University is one of the volunteers. Similar to others, she receives the visitors with a smile and with readiness, provides them with the brochures and asks about the help she can give.

“People really need information. Therefore our job is quite timely. I think it would be good if there were several reception halls like this,” says Gayane.

Despite the readiness of the volunteers to assist, many young people are quite uninformed.

Student Shushan Ghukasyan, 20, says she is unaware a Constitutional referendum is planned in Armenia. And she insists she has an indifferent position.

And the volunteers’ efforts must also battle apathy.

“It’s all the same: if the adoption of the new version is already decided than it will be adopted without our participation just like it was the case with the presidential and local administration bodies elections,” says Gevorg Asilbekyan, student at the Yerevan State Medical University.

In conversations with Armenian youth on the topic, it becomes obvious that few plan to vote against the new constitution.

Those who will say ‘no’, mention the provisions they believe unacceptable. Those provisions are: immunity of the president, double citizenship, the non-direct election of Yerevan Mayor, freedom of activities for all religious organizations and some other provisions giving privileges.

“The provision of the president’s immunity is unacceptable”: it will strengthen the president’s position also after the end of his term. I think also that the provision of the dual citizenship is illogical,” explains President of the Yerevan State University Trade Union Students’ Council Armen Avetisyan.

(Under the current Constitution, immunity is given to elected leaders against prosecution breaking the law during their tenure. According to the current amendments, the president cannot be prosecuted for crimes he committed during his tenure after he quits his office, with the exception of grave crimes or high treason.)

Although the number of supporters is relatively larger than the “no” supporters, their positions also contain reservations.

“Although I will most probably vote in favor, our problem is not the flaws of the acting Constitution. The fact is that we do not know what respecting laws means. Even if we adopt the Bible as a Constitution, nothing will improve, if we don’t follow it,” explains Hamazasp Danielyan, a student at the School of Political Science at the YSU.

Despite skepticism, the supporters of the amendments also substantiate their choice with the introduction of a number of important provisions – limitation of president’s authorities, increase of the National Assembly role and weight, provision of court independence, right of the citizens to appeal to the Constitutional Court and enlargement of human rights in general.