By Armen Zakarian and Karine Kalantarian
Pro-government political groups are engaged in secret horse trading over the distribution of seats in the next Armenian parliament and are close to striking a power-sharing deal that would maximize their chances in next May’s parliamentary elections, RFE/RL learned on Monday.
Senior sources in the National Assembly said the Republican Party (HHK), Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), Orinats Yerkir and a group of non-partisan deputies supporting President Robert Kocharian are redrawing single-mandate electoral districts in a way that will bode well for the victory of their candidates. They are also dividing the 56 constituencies into zones of influence where only one of them will field a candidate.
Of the 131 members of the current National Assembly 75 were elected on an individual basis, under the first-past-the-post system. The 56 other deputies were elected under the system of proportional representation of political parties and blocs.
The number of the party-list seats has been raised to 75 and that of the single-mandate constituencies, evenly distributed across Armenia, reduced to 56. This means that the latter will have to be made bigger before the next elections. Their borders are already being redrawn.
The incumbent lawmakers, anxious to secure their reelection, are now trying to make sure that their constituencies expand into areas where they have political allies and other useful connections. Hence, the ongoing political bargaining in the parliament.
The preliminary map of the electoral districts was on Monday approved by the newly formed Central Election Commission (CEC). It is likely to undergo changes before the legislative elections which the CEC scheduled for May 25, 2003 last week. “The current districts are being created for the local and presidential elections [due in October and February],” said the commission’s chairman, Artak Sahradian.
Sources said the four pro-presidential forces are also trying to ensure that their candidates do not compete against each other in the elections by dividing their areas of interest. On many of them, agreement has already been reached.
The HHK, which is led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, is said to hope to capture at least ten parliament seats in single-mandate districts and win the highest percentage of the proportional vote. Dashnaktsutyun and Orinats Yerkir, for their part, are aiming at 20 and 10 seats respectively.
The three parties have so far refrained from seeking similar arrangements with other, smaller political groups supporting Kocharian. Most of those groups are not represented in the current parliament.
Karen Karapetian, the leader of the People’s Deputy non-partisan group of pro-presidential lawmakers, admitted that the group is in talks with the main parliamentary parties but declined to give details. Karapetian denied reports that the People’s Deputy, which is largely made up of wealthy and well-connected individuals, has threatened to challenge Markarian’s Republicans in the polls if they refuse to set aside sufficient seats for its members. But he said it will fight hard for its interests.