By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A leading member of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) warned on Monday failure to ensure the freedom and fairness of Armenia’s forthcoming local elections could spark armed clashes between supporters of rival candidates.
Armen Rustamian, the number one figure in the leadership of Dashnaktsutyun’s Armenia branch, said the authorities should therefore reform the electoral legislation and speed up the country’s broader democratization.
“If we fail to deepen electoral reforms to the extent required by international standards, we could witness very sad results. In particular, clashes in local constituencies,” he told RFE/RL, referring to the local polls slated for October.
He said those clashes could be as serious as a February 4 gunfight between two business clans in Yerevan that left at least one person dead and several others wounded. It was the most massive shootout reported in Armenia in years. Dozens of its participants have reportedly been arrested or questioned by the police.
Dashnaktsutyun, which is a junior partner in President Robert Kocharian’s coalition government, has for months been lobbying for sweeping amendments to Armenia’s Election Code. It is particularly pushing for a sizable increase in the number of parliament seats contested under the system of proportional representation.
The nationalist party is also looking to increase its presence in local government bodies. No Armenian city or town is currently controlled by it.
Rustamian argued that electoral reform is essential for accelerating the “slow course” of democratic reforms, echoing concerns expressed by other Dashnaktsutyun leaders in recent months. They went as far as to threaten to quit the ruling coalition.