New Constitution, Old Antics: Numbers under question as “yes” votes carry referendum

With yet another voting process contested and criticized and amid familiar calls for revolution, it appears nonetheless likely that Armenia will soon have a new constitution.

The official result of Sunday’s referendum has not yet been announced. However, the Central Election Commission has reported that nearly 64 percent of the country’s eligible voters turned out, and with State Television reporting exit-poll results that 88 percent of voters favored the draft constitution, the referendum appears to be another victory for President Robert Kocharyan.

Oppositionists, however, see flaws in those indicators.

First, anti-Kocharyan observers claim that polling stations were noticeably inactive.

Second, State Television is in fact controlled by the Government, and isn’t taken as a non-partisan source of information.

As to CEC numbers: If they prove correct, it would mean that more voters participated in the referendum than in the hotly-contested presidential run-off of 2003, when Kocharyan beat out Stepan Demirchyan in a vote mired with fraud, and internationally condemned for its failure to meet requirements of a democratically-managed process.

While Armenia’s polling stations closed Sunday evening, the doors opened on another round of accusations by the republic’s oppositional parties, whose own influence on public passion has lately appeared to have more mouth than muscle.

The Opposition had called on its supporters to boycott the referendum, reasoning that it would be less likely for pro-government sympathizers to manipulate the number of voters, than the number of votes.

It comes as surprise to no one here that the “yes” camp appears to have its predicted victory. But on a voting day that hardly caught the public interest in the way of the 2003 election, the CEC’s figures might surely seem out of line with even non-partisan observers.

Polling station monitors from the Council of Europe are expected to announce their report on the referendum vote later today (November 28).

Meanwhile, oppositional leaders have called for citizens to rally today at 3 p.m. It is a call, however, they also issued for Sunday, which was heeded by only a few hundred – about the same as gathered for a pre-vote protest on Friday.

Still, opposition leader Aram Sargsyan held the opposition line, claiming that low-turnout was due to the mass media failing in its obligation to inform the public of the scheduled action.

“Do not pretend that there is no opposition in this country,” Sargsyan said Sunday. “This time people will gather whether you inform them or not.”