By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian appointed on Saturday three out of nine members of the new Central Election Commission (CEC) to be formed in accordance with recent controversial amendments to Armenia’s electoral code.
The amendments were passed by the Armenian parliament last month and came into effect on Thursday after being signed into law by Kocharian. One of them, strongly criticized by the opposition, allows the president to name one third of the members of various-level commissions responsible for the conduct of local and national elections. They were previously selected by the government.
The six other seats will be controlled by six political groups represented in the current National Assembly: the Republican Party (HHK), Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), Orinats Yerkir, Communist Party (HKK), National Democratic Union (AZhM) and the Right and Accord bloc. The first three parties support Kocharian, giving him de-facto control of the electoral bodies -- something which is crucial in Armenia where the outcome of elections has often been affected by government manipulation.
One of the three presidential appointees, Artak Sahradian, had been the chairman of the previous CEC since 1999. He will likely continue to head the CEC. The two other officials appointed by Kocharian, Armen Sinanian and Artur Poghosian, held senior posts in the government.
The opposition Communists, AZhM and Right and Accord will be unable to block decisions by the CEC and lower-level commissions. Still, their participation in the commissions’ work could serve as a safeguard against large-scale vote rigging.
The new CEC will face its first major test during the October local elections. They will be followed by presidential elections next February or March.