By Shakeh Avoyan and Emil Danielyan
In a move that could infuriate the vast majority of Armenia’s political parties, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and his allies will press the parliament to increase the number of its seats distributed in single-mandate constituencies, it emerged on Tuesday. The proposed change, if approved by the National Assembly, would improve their chances in next year’s legislative elections.
The initiative amounts to a reversal of a sweeping electoral reform enacted in December 2000 at the urging of President Robert Kocharian. The 131-member parliament decided at the time to raise from 56 to 94 the number of seats contested under the system of proportional representation advocated by virtually all political parties. The change was hailed as a major step towards the development of a multi-party democracy in Armenia.
Officials said that the governing Republican Party (HHK) now wants to revert to the previous electoral system under which most members of the current parliament were elected in May 1999. The proposed change was unexpectedly included in a package of draft amendments to the Armenian Electoral Code that were passed in the first reading last May. The deputies will discuss them in the second, final reading this week.
It is not yet clear how many extra seats reserved for single-mandate constituencies Markarian and his party want to obtain at the expense of the proportional representation. They are bound to face fierce resistance from the parliament’s pro-government and opposition partisan factions that view the majoritarian system as a key obstacle to the growth of their political influence.
In particular, the HHK will risk alienating the influential Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), with which it had drafted the other election law amendments. Dashnaktsutyun is a major ally of President Robert Kocharian and controls two ministries in Markarian’s cabinet. Just like every other Armenian party except the HHK, it fared poorly in the crucial single-mandate districts during the previous elections.
Those constituencies were mainly won by either Republican or non-partisan wealthy candidates with strong connections to the local and central governments. Observers say that a reduction in the number of parliament seats allocated on the basis of party lists would allow the Republicans to offset their lack of popularity on the national level. Markarian’s party already controls many local self-government bodies.
Markarian’s intentions were on Tuesday denounced as a “conspiracy against democracy” by another major presidential ally, Paruyr Hayrikian of the small Self-Determination Union party which is not represented in the parliament. Hayrikian charged that the HHK wants to form “another weak and apolitical parliament” and said he is now trying to form a united multi-party front against the Republicans. He also urged Kocharian to veto changes in the distribution of the parliament seats if they are approved by the National Assembly.
It remains to be seen how Kocharian will react to the proposed changes. The president had himself initiated the electoral reform in December 2000, endorsing the arguments that the proportional representation makes vote manipulation more difficult. He had also complained that non-partisan deputies do not tend to be responsible for their actions, which often leads to “absurdities” during the formation of ruling cabinets.