By Karine Kalantarian
A senior Council of Europe official urged the Armenian authorities Friday to promptly enact major amendments to Armenia’s electoral code that have been suggested by legal experts from the Strasbourg-based organization.
Gianni Buquicchio, head of the council’s Venice Commission monitoring legal reforms in member states, argued that the amendments are essential for ensuring the freedom and fairness of the next year’s Armenian parliamentary elections.
“I hope and I stress that this [amended] code must be adopted as soon as possible, before the end of the year, in order to regulate the elections which should be held in May,” Buquicchio told reporters in Yerevan. “I also hope that the parliament will take into account our comments on the code in order to improve the quality of this text to ensure good elections in Armenia.”
Leaders of the Armenian parliament’s pro-government majority have for months been working on yet another reform of the code and have received relevant proposals from the Venice Commission. They have so far been reluctant to accept some of the proposals aimed at complicating various forms of electoral fraud. One of them would require election officials to mark voters’ fingers with indelible ink in order to prevent multiple voting.
Under another Venice Commission amendment, preliminary vote results would have to be tabulated and released shortly after the closure of polls. Armenian election bodies, dominated by government loyalists, have been notoriously slow in counting ballots, something which many believe facilitates vote rigging.
A package of draft amendments put forward by the parliament majority has already been rejected by the Armenian opposition which wants more radical changes in the code. Majority leaders have pledged to revise and send it to Strasbourg for by October 20. The Venice Commission is due to examine its and present its opinion to Yerevan early next month.
The electoral code has already been amended on numerous occasions before. But presidential and parliament elections held in Armenia were not judged to be more democratic by the international community as a result.
Buquicchio agreed that improved legislation alone will not prevent a repeat of serious vote irregularities unless the authorities in Yerevan have the political will to hold democratic polls. “You may have the best law in the world. But if you don’t have the good will to implement the code and act without perpetrating frauds, the elections will not be in conformity with international and European standards,” he said.
“First of all, there must be, and I insist very much on this, the goodwill of the authorities, electoral officials to act correctly by respecting the rules of the code,” added Buquicchio.
(Photolur photo: Gianni Buquicchio.)