Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian on Monday challenged President Serzh Sarkisian to prove his stated commitment to democratic elections by enacting more radical changes to electoral legislation and guaranteeing non-use of government resources by his Republican Party (HHK).
Sarkisian has pledged to “spare no effort” to ensure that parliamentary elections due in May are widely recognized as free and fair. Visiting Brussels earlier this month, his prime minister, Tigran Sarkisian (no relation), said the vote will the most democratic in the country’s history.
In a letter to the head of state released by his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, Hovannisian listed 15 concrete measures which he said would demonstrate the seriousness of these pledges. In particular, he said, election commissions must be required to ink voters’ fingers and publicize lists of citizens who cast their ballots.
Such safeguards are also strongly advocated by Armenia’s other major opposition forces.
Opposition leaders say this would preclude multiple voting as well as fraudulent voting on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Armenians that are absent from the country but remain on the national vote registers.
The HHK-led pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament blocked corresponding amendments to the Election Code drafted by the opposition earlier this year. It has also been against the opposition idea, also mentioned by Hovannisian, of abolishing parliamentary elections held in single-mandate constituencies.
Armenian law reserves 41 of the 131 seats in the National Assembly for such constituencies. The remaining deputies are elected on the party list basis.
In his letter, Hovannisian said Sarkisian must rule out any use of government funds and properties by the HHK and guarantee that central and local government officials, civil servants and other public sector employees will no longer be under pressure to contribute to the ruling party’s electoral victory at any cost.
He said the Armenian authorities should also prevent any “coordinated actions” by the HHK and law-enforcement bodies during the elections and ensure “equal access” to broadcast media by all election contenders. In addition, added Hovannisian, the heads of state universities, schools and other educational institutions (many of them HHK members) must be told to end their party affiliations.
There was no immediate reaction to the letter from Sarkisian’s office. Galust Sahakian, an HHK deputy chairman and senior parliamentarian, dismissed Hovannisian’s concerns as a pre-election ploy. He claimed that the HHK has never abused its government levers for electoral purposes.
“That’s a ploy they’ve used for years: to whip the Republicans as long as they can and then see what prospects open up for them,” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
But Stepan Safarian, a senior Zharangutyun member, insisted that Hovannisian simply listed “evident facts that are creating extremely serious challenges related to the freedom and fairness of the upcoming elections.”