By Astghik Bedevian
The opposition minority in the Armenian parliament demanded on Thursday additional safeguards against a possible manipulation of the National Assembly’s second attempt to elect the country’s new human rights ombudsman.
Deputies from the Artarutyun alliance said the parliament leadership should provide transparent ballot boxes and remove curtains from polling booths during the second vote expected later this week.
“I don’t think that the National Assembly is one of the most backward structures where voting has to be conducted with old Soviet-era ballot boxes,” one of them, Victor Dallakian, told RFE/RL. “Are they scared of an open and transparent vote?”
Under the Armenian constitution the ombudsman has to be endorsed by at least 79 members of the 131-seat legislature. President Robert Kocharian’s candidate for the vacant post, Armen Harutiunian, won only 69 votes last week.
Dallakian claimed that in fact only 52 lawmakers voted for Harutiunian. “I have credible information that there were serious irregularities during the first election, with some deputies voting in place of others,” he said.
The National Assembly is scheduled to resume its second debate on the ombudsman on Friday. Artarutyun and another opposition group represented in the parliament hope to again scuttle Harutiunian’s appointment to the job.
Kocharian is reportedly angry about the unexpected snags in what was widely expected to be a smooth selection process. He discussed the matter Tuesday with leaders of his three-party governing coalition that controls a total of 72 parliament seats. To pass Harutiunian therefore needs the backing of at least seven other pro-Kocharian deputies, assuming that all coalition deputies really back his candidacy.
Observers believe that the People’s Deputy group of 16 independent parliamentarians now holds the key to Harutiunian’s election. Its secretary, Vahram Baghdasarian, denied that Kocharian has met or otherwise exerted pressure on the group’s members. “The group is sympathetic to Armen Harutiunian,” he added.