By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian parliament approved on Tuesday amendments to the election law but postponed a vote on the most contentious of the proposed changes strongly criticized by the opposition. The deputy speaker of the parliament, Tigran Torosian, said it will be put to the vote when the law is debated in the second, final reading.
The pro-government majority wants to enable President Robert Kocharian to appoint 3 out of 11 members of various-level commissions that conduct parliamentary, presidential and local elections. The three commission seats were until now reserved for government appointees. The other members are appointed by Armenia’s leading political parties and blocs.
Opposition factions in the National Assembly have strongly objected to the change, accusing Kocharian and his allies of seeking to affect the outcome of future elections. They remained opposed to the change even after the parliament majority reduced from five to three the number of commission members to be appointed by Kocharian.
The main authors of the legislative package, the Miasnutyun faction and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), argue that the next presidential election, due in early 2003, will be handled by the existing commissions.
The amendments passed by the legislators in the first reading will alter the structure of election commissions and the mechanism for vote counting as well as facilitate the voting by the army conscripts -- a major source of election irregularities in Armenia. They will also allow non-citizens, notably ethnic Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan, to take part in local elections.