A standing committee of the Armenian parliament held on Wednesday hearings on a major voting reform which the country’s leading opposition forces say would make the upcoming parliamentary elections more democratic.
The committee on legal affairs agreed to discuss the idea of holding the elections only on a party-list basis despite its rejection by the pro-government majority in the National Assembly. The Armenian government has also spoken out against a relevant bill drafted by the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.
In accordance with Armenia’s existing Electoral Code, 90 of the 131 parliament seats were contested under the system of proportional representation in the last legislative elections. The remaining 41 deputies were elected in single-seat constituencies across the country.
Opposition leaders say voters are more vulnerable to bribes and intimidation when they pick individual candidates. The HHK denies this and says the single-mandate districts are needed because most Armenian parties do not have strong branches outside Yerevan.
Lawmakers from Dashnaktsutyun and Zharangutyun sought to disprove the government arguments during the committee hearings. “In those districts people don’t even know who their deputy is because not only he doesn’t live there but doesn’t even visit it,” said Vahan Hovannisian, Dashnaktsutyun’s parliamentary leader. “And here they don’t approach the podium and say a word [during parliament sessions.]”
Armen Rustamian, another Dashnaktsutyun leader, dismissed the HHK claims that the single-mandate constituencies allow for a direct link between the National Assembly and the Armenian provinces. “That link begins and ends with the distribution of vote bribes,” Rustamian claimed.
Senior members of other opposition groups not represented in the current parliament, notably the Armenian National Congress (HAK), also took part in the discussion. Levon Zurabian, the HAK coordinator, said that elections in the nationwide constituencies are usually swept by rich individuals with dubious reputations. He said they “invest financial, physical and criminal resources in bullying and bribing voters.”
The parliament is expected to vote on the opposition bill later this month. Davit Harutiunian, the committee chairman, made clear on Wednesday that the HHK majority will vote against it.