By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Hrach Melkumian
The pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament watered down on Monday a controversial proposal to allow President Robert Kocharian to appoint members of various-level election commissions.
The proposal, rejected by the opposition, is part of draft amendments in the existing election law. The National Assembly is scheduled to vote on them on Tuesday.
Its deputy speaker, Tigran Torosian, said leaders of the largest Miasnutyun faction will suggest that the number of seats in the 11-member commission reserved for presidential appointees be reduced from five to three.
Under the existing law, the president has no powers to decide on the make-up of the Central Election Commission (CEC) and its territorial divisions. All of them have 13 members. Three of them are appointed by the government, while ten others by political parties that are either represented in the parliament or have collected the highest number of voters’ signatures.
Under the amendments, co-authored by Miasnutyun and the Dashnaktsutyun party, the commissions will be formed only by Kocharian and the partisan factions of the parliament. The parliament majority says they will improve the conduct of future elections.
However, opposition leaders claim that the amendments are designed to enable Kocharian to affect the outcome of the polls. They repeated the charge during weekend interviews with RFE/RL. “The authorities are already doing everything to ensure Kocharian’s reelection,” said Albert Bazeyan of the Hanrapetutyun party.
Hanrapetutyun is one of 13 opposition parties campaigning for Kocharian’s resignation on the back of concerns about press freedom in Armenia stemming from the closure of the independent A1+ channel. On Friday they held yet another anti-presidential rally and issued a joint statement calling for Kocharian’s ouster “by constitutional means.”
Bazeyan claimed that a pre-term presidential election would be more democratic than the one scheduled for next year. He also reaffirmed the opposition’s intention to put forward a single presidential candidate.
A senior member of the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK), Grigor Harutiunian, said that although “the idea is accepted by us” the opposition alliance has yet to discuss who should take on Kocharian.
The idea of a common candidate is unlikely to be backed by two other major opposition groups, National Unity and the Communist Party. They both have avoided any involvement in the opposition campaign.
Artashes Geghamian, the outspoken leader of National Unity, indicated that he will go it alone. “The parties do not have a monopoly to put forward candidates on behalf of the entire opposition,” Geghamian told RFE/RL.