By Armen Zakarian
The governing Republican Party (HHK) has proposed a change in Armenia’s electoral code which would weaken President Robert Kocharian’s control over state bodies holding elections.
The legislation in its present form empowers Kocharian to appoint three out of nine members of the Central Election Commission and its lower-level divisions. The other members represent political parties and blocs which are represented in the Armenian parliament dominated by Kocharian allies.
The leader of the HHK faction in parliament, Galust Sahakian, told RFE/RL on Monday that his party now believes that the president should likewise have only one seat in every commission. “We simply want to maintain balance,” he said.
The Republicans, who have the biggest parliament faction, will try push that through the National Assembly along with a package of election law amendments which they have jointly drawn up with their coalition partners, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Orinats Yerkir Party.
The three parties have so far failed to reach agreement on changing the existing mechanism for the formation of the electoral commissions which is widely seen as flawed. Dashnaktsutyun and Orinats Yerkir have not yet formulated a clear position on the issue. A senior Dashnaktsutyun lawmaker, Armen Rustamian, said his party might favor a switch to a non-partisan election administration.
The HHK proposal is in line with the recommendations of Europe’s two leading democracy watchdogs that harshly criticized last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Armenia. Experts from the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe unveiled last February a long list of legal amendments which they believe could prevent a repeat of “widespread electoral violations.”
In a 20-page report they concluded that the existing mechanism is a “serious obstacle to the impartiality of the electoral administration” as it fails to ensure “adequate balance of major political interests.” “In order to reduce the president’s influence on the commission’s work, the [presidential] administration should not have more than one representative in each election commission,” they said.
The HHK initiative, if it is backed by most lawmakers, will lead to the creation of new commissions made up of seven members. However, only two of them would represent the opposition, meaning that the Armenian president and his allies would continue to control the electoral process.
(Photolur photo: Sahakian, left, and other HHK deputies attending a recent session of the Armenian parliament.)