By Ruben Meloyan
A member of Armenia’s Central Election Commission representing the opposition dismissed on Friday government assurances that the upcoming parliamentary elections will be far more democratic than the polls held in the past.
“The authorities do not want free and fair elections,” claimed Felix Khachatrian, who represents the Artarutyun (Justice) in the CEC. “The reasons for that are clear. First and foremost, they don’t want to lose their lucrative posts.”
“They feel that after losing power they would have to answer questions about things they did while in power,” he said.
The remarks reflect the dominant mood among leaders of the country’s main opposition groups. They say the elections scheduled for May 12 will likely a see a repeat of chronic electoral fraud that has been the main source of political instability in Armenia. But their pro-government rivals deny this, saying that the opposition is simply trying to justify its inability to win sufficient public support.
Garegin Azarian, chairman of the government-controlled CEC, again stated earlier this month that the upcoming vote will be free and fair. He pointed, among other things, to the recent passage of fresh amendments to Armenia’s electoral code that have been largely endorsed by the Council of Europe.
The authorities say the amendments will complicate ballot box stuffing and other forms of fraud that were commonplace during the previous Armenian parliamentary and presidential elections. In particular, voters will now be required to put marked ballots into special envelops before casting them. Another amendment gives more rights to the proxies of election candidates as well as observers and journalists covering polling.
But opposition leaders downplay the enacted changes, saying that laws have been irrelevant to the conduct of Armenian elections. They also say some of the amendments will actually facilitate vote manipulation. That includes a provision banning political parties from replacing their members sitting on various-level election commissions at will. Opposition leaders claim that many of them are bribed or bullied into turning a blind eye to fraud.
Khachatrian said his main election-related worry is the “grossly inflated” voter lists that presently include the names of over 2.3 million Armenian citizens. He and many other oppositionists believe that the real number of eligible voters is considerably lower.