By Armen Zakarian
A close associate of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian made on Saturday a strong case for freedom and fairness of next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections, saying that a clean vote will be vital for Armenia’s future. Tigran Torosian, who is a deputy speaker of the parliament, urged the country’s main parties to work together to preclude vote irregularities, which have been the main source of political tension for the past decade.
“Our ten-year history shows that no more or less reasonable person or political force should have illusions that they will achieve success with unfair elections,” he told a political discussion club in Yerevan.
Torosian is also a leading member of Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK) which will be a key contender in the parliamentary elections of 2003. The Republicans who control many government bodies across Armenia have already been accused by some opponents of planning to manipulate the vote with their political and economic levers.
Torosian argued that the HHK and other major Armenian parties should join forces to ensure the legitimacy of the polls. He said they have already formed an ad hoc working group in the parliament to discuss further reform of the country’s election legislation.
The group is currently discussing four different proposals regarding electoral reform. The existing Electoral Code was most recently amended in December 2000 when the National Assembly substantially increased the number of its seats to be contested under the system of proportional representation. The change, endorsed by President Robert Kocharian, came as a serious boost to the parties most of which have fared poorly in single-mandate constituencies.
Most elections held in Armenia since independence have been marred with numerous reports of vote rigging and other irregularities. Torosian was a member of the Central Election Commission during the reportedly fraudulent presidential elections of September 1996. He at the time endorsed the official results of the ballot which gave victory to the incumbent president Levon Ter-Petrosian. A monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called into question their credibility, however.
The next presidential vote, held in March 1998, also fell short of European standards, according to the OSCE monitors. Its official winner, President Robert Kocharian, will be seeking reelection in next year and is likely to be backed by Torosian’s HHK.