Armenians claim widespread corruption in constitutional referendum

Opposition politicians and protesters gathered in Yerevan, claiming that Armenia’s November 7 referendum on constitutional reforms was marked with high rates of corruption. According to Armenia’s Central Election Commission, 63.5% of voters purportedly elected to pass a packet of over 200 changes to the constitution. One of the reforms would curb presidential powers but extend the term from five to seven years. Activists allege this would allow current President Serzh Sargsyan to stay in power past the 2018 end of his second term, which Sargsyan refutes, saying he has no ambition to continue in office.

The European Platform for Democratic Elections, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Armenian branch of Transparency International reported widespread irregularities in the December 6 referendum, including ballot-box stuffing, registering votes of the deceased, bribery at polling stations, harassment of reporters and protesters and carousel voting. Head of the Opposition National Congress and MP Levon Zurabian boycotted the referendum and rejected the turnout figures. State count put voter turnout at just over 50% of the population, which officials with the majority Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) asserted showed the population’s activism. Civic activists and Transparency International alleged that 300,000 to 500,000 (as much as a third of the reported 1.5 million turnout) of the votes were illegitimate, pointing to voting lists on which were registered individuals who had left the country years ago.

The reforms are slated to go into effect after the 2017 parliamentary elections. If implemented, they would change Armenia from a presidential to parliamentary republic. Presidential elections would be abolished, with the national parliament electing the president, from whom head-of-state powers would be transferred to the Prime Minister. Critics of the reforms contend that they would benefit the RPA, which currently controls most government bodies including parliament through a majority. Observers note that the rise to power of the RPA, based on a conservative, nationalist ideology, has mirrored the popularity of right-wing groups that have repressed political opposition across the CIS, including in Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, its co-members in the Eurasian Economic Union.

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