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”.
Amid opposition allegations of serious fraud planned in Armenia’s upcoming constitutional referendum, the National Assembly passed in the final reading on Wednesday a bill that eases legal requirements for voter identification in polling stations. Voters in Armenia have until now had to show election officials their national passports before being able to cast ballots in elections and referendums. Under the controversial bill, those of them who do not have passports would be allowed to produce only plastic ID cards introduced in Armenia in recent years. According to government estimates, over 180,000 voting-age Armenians hold only this kind of IDs. Lawmakers from the ruling Republican Party (HHK), who have drafted the bill, say that they too should be able to vote.
The Armenian polls that saw President Serzh Sarkisian win re-election were free of any serious violations, the central elections commission said Monday as it released the poll’s final results. Serzh Sarkisian scored crushing victory in last week’s presidential elections seen as a crucial test for the ex-Soviet state. “In the course of the electoral campaign and the vote, there were no violations that could have affected the elections’ result,” said the head of the Central Elections Commission, Tigran Mukuchyan. “Serzh Azatovich Sarkisian has been elected President of the Republic of Armenia,” he announced.
An Armenian opposition leader has challenged President Serzh Sarkisian to prove his commitment to hold democratic elections by enacting radical changes to the law and not allowing government resources to be used by his ruling Republican Party (HHK), RFE/RL’s Armenian Service reports.
Sarkisian has pledged to “spare no effort” to ensure that parliamentary elections in May are widely recognized as free and fair. Visiting Brussels earlier this month, Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian (no relation) said the vote will be the most democratic in the country’s history.
A senior official who administered Armenia’s last national elections acknowledged on Monday that he would like to head the new Central Election Commission (CEC) which will be appointed by President Serzh Sarkisian soon. Garegin Azarian expressed such hope after presiding over the last meeting of the outgoing CEC. The 8-member body conducted the February 2008 presidential election which was marred by opposition allegations of vote rigging and followed by deadly street unrest in Yerevan.
The CEC will be disbanded in accordance with a package of amendments to the Armenian Electoral Code that were enacted by the authorities in May.The most important of those amendments relates to the formation of various-level commissions holding national and local elections. Until now, the president of the republic, a high court and the political forces represented in the Armenian parliament have each appointed one member of those commissions.