Armenians voted to curb presidential powers in a disputed referendum, official results showed Monday, but the opposition said the reforms aimed to keep President Serzh Sarkisian in power and called for protests. Around two-thirds (63 percent) backed the constitutional changes in Sunday’s referendum, with 32 percent voting against, according to preliminary results from the election commission. Turnout in the referendum stood at 51 percent. However, monitors from the Council of Europe criticised irregularities in the referendum, adding that “too many citizens” saw the reforms as “a means for the current president to remain in power”.
The changes will make the president a ceremonial figure, elected by parliament for a term of seven years instead of the current five.
The pro-Moscow government said the changes were needed to shake up the political system and strengthen democracy in the former Soviet state. But the opposition cried foul, claiming that the real aim was to keep Sarkisian, 61, in power after his second term ends in 2018.
Ahead of the referendum, Sarkisian refused to repeat his earlier pledge not to run for any government office after his second and last term as president expires and defended his initiative, saying it will empower the opposition.