Armenia Votes for Change in Sunday’s Referendum

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Despite an opposition boycott–high turnout and an overwhelming "yes" vote resulted in the passage of a constitutional reform package proposed by government. The outcome of Sunday’s referendum in Armenia–gives some of the president’s powers to parliament and allows Armenia’s to hold dual citizenship.

High turnout was critical for the success of the proposed reforms that were endorsed by the Council of Europe and Western powers. To pass–the amendmen’s had to be supported by at least one-third of Armenia’s eligible voters.

The Council of Europe–the European Union–and the United States supported the amendmen’s–saying that they would speed up the country’s democratization and European integration.

After casting his ballot in Yerevan–Armenian President Robert Kocharian said: "Armenian citizens face a choice–either to elect a more progressive and more balanced government system or retain a system with a president vested with broad authorities–as stipulated by the current constitution.

If the more balanced system is elected–for which I voted–that will mean we shall work more effectively… ‘No’ will mean that the system with a strong president will be preserved–this will mean that the president will continue to work as he did until now."

According to preliminary figures released by the Central Election Commission–as many as 1.5 million Armenia’s–or nearly two-thirds of the 2.3 million eligible voters–took part in Sunday’s referendum. 93.8 percent of them voted for the amendmen’s.

Although there were scattered reports of irregularities–the CEC chairman–Garegin Azarian and Armenia’s governing coalition stood by the official vote tally.

"There may have been problems in one or two places–but the referendum has been a success," said Mher Shahgeldian–a senior lawmaker who has nominally managed the coalition government’s "Yes" campaign.

"The published figures show that even considering all reports of violations–the referendum results can not be called into question in any way," said deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) usually sends around 200 observers to monitor Armenian elections. However–this time a 14-member monitoring team from the Council of Europe was sent to Armenia.

"The 14 members of the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities noted that the referendum generally reflected the free will of those who voted," the head of the delegation–Tomas Jirsa–said–presenting their preliminary findings.

"It’s not for us to evaluate whether or not the referendum was valid," said Jirsa. "It’s up to the Central Election Commission of Armenia." He indicated that the Council of Europe mission was too small to pass such judgment.

Yerevan did not face pressure from the US and other Western governmen’s to invite the OSCE to observe elections.

Dissatisfied with Sunday’s results–opposition leaders and several hundreds of their supporters staged a protest in a downtown Yerevan square. Although opposition rallies in Armenia have generally been peaceful–the United States advised its citizens to stay away from rallies expected to take place in Yerevan.

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