A former senior judge and government official close to Armenia’s ruling establishment was appointed on Monday as the new chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC).
The seven members of the CEC voted unanimously for Tigran Mukuchian just over one week after the sudden death of its previous longtime chairman, Garegin Azarian.
Mukuchian’s appointment has been widely anticipated since President Serzh Sarkisian dismissed him as chairman of Armenia’s Administrative Court of Appeals on September 15.
The higher Court of Cassation promptly nominated him for one of the three CEC seats reserved for the tribunal. Sarkisian endorsed the nomination late last week.
“The commission found it expedient to approve my candidacy after taking into account by background,” Mukuchian said after the appointment.
Mukuchian was closely involved in the conduct of disputed elections held in Armenia in the past. He was a member of the CEC during the 1996 presidential election, official results of which gave victory to the incumbent President Levon Ter-Petrosian and were rejected as fraudulent by the latter’s main challenger.
Mukuchian also defended in the Constitutional Court official results of another disputed presidential ballot, held in 2003, in his capacity as a deputy minister of justice. They showed then President Robert Kocharian winning a second term in office amid opposition allegations of widespread fraud.
Mukuchian defended his past election-related activities as he spoke to journalists at the CEC. “It was not about defending one or another candidate. It was about [opposition] appeals against decisions made by the CEC,” he said.
The new CEC chief insisted that he will strive to improve the conduct of Armenian elections. Asked whether he could come under government pressure to issue fraudulent results, he said, “I think that there will be no such situations.”
Opposition representatives dismissed these assurances. Zoya Tadevosian, a former CEC member affiliated with the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) led by Ter-Petrosian, claimed that Mukuchian was handpicked by Sarkisian and will therefore loyally serve the president.
The current CEC, which was formed in July, will administer the next Armenian elections in accordance with fresh amendments to the Electoral Code enacted in May. The Council of Europe has welcomed those amendments.
The HAK and other opposition groups say, however, that they will have little bearing on the freedom and fairness of the polls. They argue that the CEC and lower-level electoral commissions continue to be dominated by government loyalists.