Critics say proposed changes to constitution are intended to extend the term of the president. Global Voices reports
Armenians will go to the polls on Sunday to vote on whether their country should be a presidential or a parliamentary republic, a move critics see as an attempt to extend the president’s power.
If the government’s proposal is accepted, the role of the president would be downgraded to a figurehead position elected by parliament every seven years.
The position of prime minister backed by the parliamentary party would become more powerful.
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The government has said the reforms are meant to stabilise the political system but the opposition claims that the initiative is aimed at allowing the president, Serzh Sarkisian, to maintain his grip on power by shifting jobs when his second presidential term comes to an end in 2018.
The No campaign
Those opposed to the constitutional reforms are a conglomerate of civic activists and opposition political parties including the Armenian National Congress.
Powered by social media, the counter campaign represents rising public frustration with a government overwhelmingly perceived as corrupt, self-serving, and out-of-touch.
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The protests started as an objection to an increase in electricity tariffs and sparked a debate around social, economic, and political problems in a way that formal politics had previously failed to do.
The largely peaceful demonstrations were eventually dispersed by police violence (a move condemned by rights monitors) but succeeded in forcing concessions from the government.
The Nomovement has also become a vehicle for the public to express their dissatisfaction.
For the moment — barring a peaceful pre-referendum rally in the capital on 1 December— the debate is largely playing itself out on television and online, mostly on Facebook.
One group page features photographs of supporters holding No signs, with many Armenians changing their profiles and cover images to register support. Others havebeen changing the government-sanctioned message, Asa Ayo (Say yes), to No, thanks.
The campaign has played on public fears of government cheating. A cartoon created by Armenian media outlet MediaLab that shows a dead person in a coffin casting a Yes ballot with the words , “we are carrying out the last wishes of the deceased”, has been widely shared.
The cartoon gathered traction following the discovery of a man registered to vote who had been born in 1895, making him 120 years old at the time of the referendum.
And a recent survey carried out by the Compass Research Centre found a surplus of 845 voters at one polling station. It also found that three in 10 addresses registered in the city of Gyumri did not actually exist, reported independent news site Press.am.
Anger towards the government is also apparent in political graffiti , popping up around Yerevan.
Despite signs of a growing civic movement against the government, the No campaign has the odds stacked against it, with the government accused of blocking rallies and rushing the vote through with only a month’s notice to hamper campaigning.