Constitutional Referendums in Armenia8 m. | 2020-02-28
On May 25, 2003, the first constitutional referendum was held in line with the Parliamentary elections. The suggested project for the constitutional amendments has been developed since 1999 by the President’s Committee of the RA.
The first attempt of the constitutional amendments initiated by Robert Kocharyan, failed. The “Yes” camp received 559687 votes, and “No” received 552257 votes. Under the Law on Referendum of the RA in 2003, the decision may be considered as adopted if more than half of the total number of voters participated in voting.
The next attempt of the referendum on constitutional changes was made in November 2005. Taking into account the failed attempt in 2003, this time the government adopted a policy of active propaganda. The “Yes” camp was formed and the political parties RPA, ARF and Orinats Yerkir were involved in it. The “No” camp was also actively involved in the referendum campaign, led by the oppositional Justice bloc. However, there were inner disagreements inside the “No” camp, particularly the NDU was in favor of the boycott strategy, whereas the PPA was an active supporter of “No”.
The referendum took place on November 27, 2005. According to the official results, the “Yes” received 1,411,711 votes (94.5%).
Serzh Sargsyan initiated the next constitutional amendment in 2015. The referendum took place on December 6, and with a positive outcome according to the official results: the “Yes” received 825 521 votes (63.37%), the “No” received 421568 votes (32.36%). The Constitutional referendum of 2015 passed through an active campaigning: the camps of “Yes” (RPA, PAP and ARF) and “No” (ANC, Heritage and Orinats Yerkir) were clearly formed.
Features of Campaigns
T he main feature of the first constitutional referendum campaign was the absence of the campaign. In this referendum, the camps of “Yes” and “No” weren’t formed. “Yes” was presented by Robert Kocharyan. What refers to the “No” camp, the latter wasn’t clearly formed. In 2003, only the PPA out of the Parliamentarian forces, which was the only wing of the “Unity” bloc, made a statement on boycotting the referendum. Orinats Yerkir, ARF and National Unity parties didn’t have a clear position. Vazgen Manukyan’s NDU Party and the Communist Party were negative about the constitutional amendments.
This constitutional referendum was noteworthy as there wasn’t any public awareness, the draft of the amendments was published just 10 days before the referendum, with the press comment of the day, just for “getting acquaintance with”. This situation around the referendum was mainly related to the parliamentary elections held on the same day. It’s clear, that the referendum on constitutional changes received almost no attention in National Assembly’s pre-election campaign, the debate was between the rival political forces and bypassed the constitutional amendments. As a result, the draft of the constitutional amendment in 2003 didn’t get enough votes.
Contrary to the referendum in 2003, the referendum campaign of November 2005 passed under an active competition. Based on the previous experience, Robert Kocharyan, who initiated the amendments (the signatures of Hrayr Tovmasyan and Vardan Poghosyan were under the draft), formed the “Yes” camp, where the RPA, ARF and Orinats Yerkir were included. It’s noteworthy, that this time, the government mobilized different cultural figures, who were engaged in the “Yes” propaganda. By doing so, the Government aimed at getting a public demand image for the need for constitutional reforms. This experience gained a widespread popularity in further election campaigns. The “No” camp took an active part in this campaign as well. The oppositional “Justice” bloc announced about creating a “No” campaign headquarters (PPA, NDU, CRU, DPA, ADDP, NDP and Republic). Victor Dallakyan was the coordinator of the headquarters. It was mentioned in the statement issued by the “No” headquarters:
"By saying No to the so-called constitutional amendments, you are saying “no” to the administration responsible for the October 27, 1999 political terrorism that falsified the results of the 1998 and 2003 presidential and 2003 parliamentary elections, April 2004 On the 13th it committed atrocities against the peaceful people, made mass violence and violations of human rights practice”.
However, notwithstanding this statement, it should be noted, that there were some tactical disagreements in the “No” camp. In particular, Vazgen Manukyan believed that they should boycott the referendum and not go to vote. This statement actually expressed the main thesis of the “No” camp campaign. Generally, the content of the constitutional amendments in the referendum’s campaign didn’t become the topic for wide discussion and debate for the two camps. The more attention was paid to the issue, whether the constitutional amendment would lead to Robert Kocharyan’s third presidential term or not. This was the issue, around which the campaign of the two sides was built: the opposition emphasized that the referendum is held to elect Robert Kocharyan for the third term, whereas the “Yes” camp (RPA, ARF and Orinats Yerkir) propagated to exclude such a danger.
The referendum got the name of “ghost referendum” in the daily. The reason was the mass fraud and stuffing, which was also expressed in the international organizations’ assessments. “Extremely law turnout didn’t correspond to the high rates provided by the election commissions”, was noted in the joint statement made by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the 14-member delegation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. The President of the Venice Commission Gianni Buquicchio regretted that the referendum was as good as he expected, however, recording it as an established fact, which brings Armenia closer to Europe.
Serzh Sargsyan initiated the constitutional amendments for the third time. With the constitutional amendments of 2015, Armenia was fully transitioning to a parliamentary system of government. The “No” and “Yes” camps were more than clear in this referendum campaign. The “No” camp was formed by the ANC and PPA parties, the “Yes” camp was represented by the parliamentary forces: RPA, PAP and ARF. The 2015 referendum campaign was widely covered by a political “reality show”, including visits of the two camps to the country’s settlements, meetings and discussions with citizens, which were broadcast live. This referendum campaign stood out for its wide-spread awareness. The main propaganda thesis of the “Yes” camp representatives was based on a system change of the governance. The “No” camp and “You won’t spend” civil initiative mainly emphasized the fact, that with this amendment, Serzh Sargsyan gained an opportunity to continue his post already as the country’s Prime Minister. However, it’s worth noting, that the debate and propaganda around these two theses didn’t provide an opportunity for specific provisions of the constitution and for content discussion.
The Civil Contract Party had a special position on the constitutional referendum in 2015 by labeling the referendum as a “fake agenda”. It should be noted, that different political platforms make statements about the “fake agenda” of the upcoming referendum to be held on April 5, 2020, also referring to the position of the Civil Contract. Yet it should be noted that the political realities of 2015 and 2020 are incomparable. Furthermore, let’s note, that by declaring the constitutional referendum as fake agenda in 2015, the Civil Contract didn’t call for boycotting or ignoring it, but expressed his position on the process as a political force, which will not participate in the referendum campaign. This comparison shows the key differences, as the call to boycott or ignore the referendum in the current situation, whether or not the political force participates in the campaign, is a clear political stance.
The campaigns for the Referendum of the Constitutional Amendments in Armenia almost usually took place amid a confrontation between the authorities and the opposition, where the conceptual side of the changes was often pushed to the side. The constitutional amendments were perceived and presented by the political opposition as attempts of the authorities to strengthen their positions and to maintain their power. As a rule, the authority initiating the amendments and its supporting political forces mostly tried to counter these claims by the opposition. This positions of the political forces towards the constitutional amendments led to the perception, that the Constitution can be used as an own power insurance tool by a political power or group and this approach was often true. Under such conditions, facing the upcoming referendum, one of the primary issues of the political authorities is not only to organize the referendum process but also to exclude the aforementioned public opinion.