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Armenian Opposition Steps Up Push For Voting Reform


Armenia - Armen Rustamian (L), a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, speaks at an opposition conference in Yerevan, 20Jan2012.

Armenia - Armen Rustamian (L), a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, speaks at an opposition conference in Yerevan, 20Jan2012.

The Armenian opposition piled up pressure on the government over electoral reform on Friday with a conference in Yerevan that was attended by representatives of virtually all of the country’s major political forces.

The opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party organized the forum to promote the idea of holding the upcoming parliamentary elections only on the party-list basis.

The two parties plan to force a parliament debate soon on corresponding amendments to the Electoral Code that were tabled by them earlier this month. President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), which controls the majority of seats in the outgoing National Assembly, has made clear that it will block their passage.

A senior HHK lawmaker, Hovannes Sahakian, reaffirmed this stance as he participated in the opposition conference along with senior representatives of the HHK’s junior coalition partners, the Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Orinats Yerkir parties. He disagreed with opposition assertions that the May elections are more likely to be democratic if all 131 parliament seats are contested under the system of proportional representation.

Armenia’s existing electoral legislation reserves only 90 seats for that system. The remaining 41 deputies are to be elected on an individual basis in nationwide single-mandate constituencies.

Most speakers at the conference stood by the long-standing opposition view that voters electing individual parliamentarians from single-mandate districts are more vulnerable to government intimidation and vote buying. They said this is why those districts are usually swept by wealthy government-linked candidates.

Voicing her personal opinion at the forum, Naira Zohrabian, a BHK deputy, also backed the proposed voting reform. But she said the party led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian has not yet formulated a position on the matter.

Hovannes Markarian, an Orinats Yerkir representative, said his party supports the opposition demand in principle but thinks that a switch to 100 percent proportional voting should be gradual.

Pointing to these statements, Armen Rustamian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, claimed that the ruling HHK is finding itself increasingly isolated on the issue. “They probably didn’t realize that there is broad-based support for this initiative,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

The Armenian National Congress (HAK), another major opposition force, announced late on Thursday that it will stage demonstrations in support of the Dashnaktsutyun-Zharangutyun bill during the anticipated parliament debate. The HAK coordinator, Levon Zurabian, reaffirmed this pledge during the conference.
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