By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenian lawmakers on Monday opened debates on a package of proposed amendments, which, if approved, will change the country’s electoral code by a third.
With only several months left before the next presidential election in Armenia, one of the most contentious provisions in the draft changes appears to be the one prohibiting the nomination of a presidential candidate by order of civil initiative or by a bloc of political parties. Instead, a relevant change stipulates that only a party or the candidate himself will have that right.
Independent lawmaker Viktor Dallakian, the author of the electoral code adopted in 1999 that has been amended eight times since, claimed the restriction has both “political and psychological” implications.
“If a number of prestigious political parties nominate a person as a presidential candidate and all this is mentioned in the ballot-paper, then it reassures that this candidate has a serious political weight,” he said in parliament. The deputy also stressed that this would equally concern candidates nominated by the pro-government or opposition parties as well as neutral candidates.
Meanwhile, the authors of the changes explain that unlike parliamentary elections where a bloc of political parties becomes a faction if elected, this provision loses sense when applied to presidential elections.
Dallakian also voiced strong opposition to proposed financial incentives to members of election committees, wondering if it was a means to encourage them “to rig elections well.”
“No, it is not for that,” key-note speaker Samvel Nikoyan, representing the ruling Republican Party, parried. “I think it is not so good to level such accusations at committees before elections even started.”
The proposed changes also double the size of the election pledge by the presidential candidate from the current 5 million (about $15,000) to 10 million drams and raise the limit of the maximum election spending from the candidate’s fund from the current 70 million (about $216,000) to 140 million. If the proposed changes are approved, the government will also compensate half of the campaign spending by a party or a bloc of parties that polled more than 15 percent of votes in the preceding parliamentary elections.
Artashes Avoyan, of the Orinats Yerkir, fears the increased level of allowed spending will lead to higher prices for campaign ads set by private television companies.
“Certain television companies set the price for a minute of airtime at about $400 during the latest parliamentary. Don’t you think that doubling the allowed spending by the candidate will result in soaring prices for airtime on television?” he queried.
“We think it should be increased to allow candidates to conduct an active election campaign and make their spending transparent,” Nikoyan explained, adding that television companies’ setting prices for campaign ads “is not the subject of our electoral code.”
Nikoyan also brushed aside as unreasonable the proposal of Deputy Speaker Vahan Hovannisian from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation calling for copies of electoral registers to be made available after the polls.
“Then it becomes available to the public, and it is not allowed to publicize them because the international organization says that not only how a person voted must remain secret, but also whether he or she went to the polls or not,” he explained.
And Hovannisian replied: “I don’t have to share the opinion of the OSCE. In my opinion there is no violation of the principle of secret ballot. Following this logic, it is more correct for us to vote in headscarves not to be seen and put a black piece of paper on the photo in our passports and hide our surnames on that day.”