By Hrach Melkumian
Armenia’s two main opposition groups dismissed on Thursday the authorities’ efforts to reform the electoral legislation as an attempt to mislead the public and the international community about their commitment to democratization.
Leaders of the Artarutyun (Justice) alliance and the National Assembly Party (AMK) said they will continue to boycott parliament debates on amendments to the election drafted by the parliament’s pro-government majority. They pointed to its reluctance to weaken the government’s grip on commissions holding various-level elections.
“We are not taking part in the discussions because we are convinced that their purpose is to create a smokescreen around the electoral code and leave the impression that they want hold next elections in a legal manner,” said Koryun Arakelian, a senior AMK parliamentarian.
The National Assembly majority loyal to President Robert Kocharian ended the election law debates on Wednesday without reaching agreement on the two most important amendments. One of them relates to the formation of the election commissions. The majority now seem unprepared to make any changes in the existing mechanism.
The opposition lawmakers said this makes their participation in parliament sessions and the election law discussions in particular pointless. “The obedient majority would block any real change,” Artarutyun’s Grigor Harutiunian told journalists.
Changing the way the commissions are formed was one of the key recommendations of Europe’s two leading human rights organizations that strongly criticized the presidential and parliamentary elections held in Armenia last year. In a 20-page report released in February, experts from the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe concluded that the existing mechanism for commission formation is a “serious obstacle to the impartiality of the electoral administration”
“In order to reduce the president’s influence on the commissions’ work, the [presidential] administration should not have more than one representative in each election commission,” the report said.
The Armenian president currently appoints three out of nine members of the Central Election Commission and its territorial divisions. Four other commission seats are held by pro-presidential parties, giving Kocharian overwhelming control of the bodies.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party indicated last month that it supports the idea of reserving only one seat for Kocharian appointees. But its parliamentary leader, Galust Sahakian, clarified on Thursday that it is no longer on the party agenda.
“The concern is that commissions consisting of seven members won’t be able to organize elections,” Sahakian said.