By Anna Saghabalian
Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian has confirmed through aides his decision to cede hundreds of seats in election commissions reserved for his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party to allies of opposition presidential candidates Levon Ter-Petrosian and Vazgen Manukian.
Under Armenia’s Election Code, President Robert Kocharian and the five parties represented in parliament, including Zharangutyun, each appoint one member of the Central Election Commission (CEC) and its more than 1,920 district and precinct-level divisions. Two other commission seats are controlled by a government body overseeing the Armenian judiciary.
The code also stipulates that only those individuals who attend special courses organized by the CEC can become commission members. Zharangutyun says that only about 1,000 of its members and supporters have obtained licenses required for sitting on the bodies that will conduct the February 19 presidential election.
The party, which joined the National Assembly last summer, says it has lacked time to have more election workers trained by the CEC. It has offered other opposition parties, which have held commission seats in the past, to fill the vacancies.
Zharangutyun representatives said late Thursday that three of those parties have already submitted the names of their members with CEC licenses. According to Hovsep Khurshudian, the Zharangutyun spokesman, 92 of them are affiliated with Manukian’s National Democratic Union (AZhM). He said the People’s and Hanrapetutyun parties supporting Ter-Petrosian are ready to appoint many more commission members but did not give any numbers.
“We will cover the entire territory of the republic with our joint efforts,” said Zaruhi Postanjian, a Zharangutyun parliamentarian. “That is, licensed members representing us and those two forces will be appointed to all commissions.”
Smbat Ayvazian, a senior Hanrapetutyun member, told RFE/RL that the Ter-Petrosian camp is ready to nominate as many commission members as necessary. “Numerous citizens with necessary licenses are applying to us, but we select only our party comrades,” he said.
Despite sharing its commission quota with other opposition forces, Hovannisian has indicated that he will not endorse any of the opposition contenders before the first round of voting. Khurshudian reiterated that Zharangutyun will likely throw its weight behind one of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s challengers only before a possible run-off.
In Khurshudian’s words, Zharangutyun believes no presidential candidate, including Sarkisian, is popular enough to score a first-round victory. “If that happens, it will be obvious to us that the elections were rigged,” he said.