Opposition Accuses Government of Employing Dishonest Tactics
YEREVAN (A.W.)—On March 3, Armenia’s government endorsed a new draft electoral code. Parliamentary elections, according to the code, will be the only national elections to take place in Armenia, and will be conducted entirely by proportional representation.
The draft was published by the government of Armenia on March 2, several days after its English version appeared on the Venice Commission’s website—a move that has been criticized by the opposition, according to ArmeniaNow.
At a cabinet meeting, Minister-Chief of Government Staff David Harutyunyan announced that the draft confirmed by the government differs from the one submitted to the Venice Commission. He also said that international experts are expected to visit Armenia in mid-March, when they will be familiarized with the changes made to the draft after it was sent to the commission, reported ArmenPress. Harutyunyan added that the draft can be used as the basis for public discussions.
The debate on the draft code in Armenia’s National Assembly is expected to begin on March 14. Armenian President Serge Sarkisian has urged parliament to adopt the code by June.
Under the new system, Armenia would work with a minimum of 101 parliamentary seats with a 5-year term elected entirely by proportional representation. Under the current system of government, there are 131 members of parliament, with 41 elected in first-past-the-post constituencies and the rest by proportional representation. The draft code also suggests establishing 13 electoral districts to replace the existing 41—4 in Yerevan and 9 in the provinces. Local elections would also be based on a proportional voting system, with city councils electing mayors.
During a joint press conference on March 1, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini stressed the importance of consensus between the government, opposition, and civil society regarding the new code, ArmeniaNow reported.
Opposition to the Draft
Several opposition groups criticized the government shortly after the draft was published, saying the process was not done inclusively, and that the draft was secretly submitted to the Venice Commission before officially being released. The head of the Armenian National Congress (ANC) parliamentary faction, Levon Zurabyan, said the ANC is ready to push for changes in the parliamentary debates.
“If the government was honest and had good intentions, it would discuss the new electoral code with its own people, public, and the opposition, and would not have sent the draft to the Venice Commission in the first place,” Zurabyan was quoted as saying by ArmeniaNow. He added that by sending the draft to the commission ahead of the discussions, Armenian authorities had sought “approval” for the document. “This is their tactic that once again shows that they are dishonest and fraudulent and that they plan to rig elections,” Zurabuyan said.
One of the major demands from opposition groups concerned about electoral fraud has been to publish voter lists after elections, which the draft electoral code does not stipulate. The draft proposes compiling lists of and registering voters electronically; according to the draft, this would clarify whether citizens are eligible to vote and whether they have already voted. The system will automatically print a ballot only if it recognizes the voter and verifies that s/he has not yet voted.
Following a meeting of the executive body of the Republican Party on March 3, party spokesperson Eduard Sharmazanov tried to address some of the concerns voiced by the opposition. “The main discussions will be held in the National Assembly. Naturally, there will also be hearings, with all stakeholders participating in the discussions. We must also listen to the opinions of civil society representatives, the opposition. One should not state categorically that the views of the opposition and civil society have been rejected,” he was quoted as saying by ArmeniaNow.