The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a junior partner in the country’s governing coalition, said on Thursday it will soon propose legal amendments that would set stricter punishment for individuals involved in electoral fraud.
“For us, it is a matter of principle to see fraud masterminds, rather than their petty agents, punished,” Naira Zohrabian, a senior BHK member, told journalists “We will find a legal formulation and certainly submit it to the parliament.”
Zohrabian did not specify the changes to Armenia’s electoral and criminal codes advocated by the BHK.
They are likely to be met with skepticism by Armenian opposition groups. The latter have long accused the BHK and its leader, businessman Gagik Tsarukian, of resorting to violence against opposition activists, vote buying and other election-related abuses.
In particular, Tsarukian was implicated in the beating of several proxies of opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian during the February 2008 presidential election. He denied any involvement, however.
The BHK has already co-sponsored, together with President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), a package of fresh amendments to the Electoral Code that was recently sent to the Council of Europe for examination. It is part of broader political reforms promised by the Armenian authorities to the Strasbourg-based organization.
The draft amendments have been criticized as inadequate by the two opposition parties represented in the Armenian parliament. The Zharangutyun Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) submitted an alternative electoral reform plan to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission this summer.
Under one of the amendments proposed by them, all 131 seats in the National Assembly would be contested under the system of proportional representation. More importantly, they want Armenia’s leading pro-government and opposition forces to have equal representation in all election commissions.
By contrast, the amendments drafted by the parliament majority would enable the Sarkisian administration to retain control of the various-level commissions. Their main author, Davit Harutiunian, on Thursday rejected the opposition calls for the abolition of the country’s 56 single-mandate constituencies. “That would simply kill all political activity in the regions,” he said.
The Armenian National Congress (HAK), other major opposition force not represented in the parliament, is showing far less interest in the Electoral Code reform. Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s central office coordinator, accused the authorities of misleading the domestic public and the international community.
Zurabian insisted that the freedom and fairness of Armenian elections primarily depends on their “political will,” rather than electoral legislation. “Therefore, we consider reform of the Electoral Code a useful but not decisive factor,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.