In an unprecedented joint demonstration, Armenia’s leading opposition forces rallied hundreds of supporters in Yerevan on Tuesday as the National Assembly debated their demands for a major reform of the country’s electoral system.
Addressing the crowd outside the parliament building, opposition leaders reiterated their view that the upcoming parliamentary elections should be held only on the party-list basis. The Armenian National Congress (HAK), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Zharangutyun (Heritage) parties believe that this would significantly increase chances of their freedom and fairness.
Levon Zurabian, an HAK leader, welcomed the “unprecedented unification” of the opposition, saying that it will have positive implications for the May 6 vote even if the three groups fail to push a corresponding bill through the National Assembly dominated by government loyalists.
“If find it very normal that political forces and individual citizens are gathering to exert pressure on parliamentarians so that the opposition bill is passed,” Vladimir Karapetian, another senior HAK member, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) at the scene.
The demonstration was timed to coincide with the start of a parliament debate on the bill drafted by Dashnaktsutyun and Zharangutyun deputies. The Armenian government formally rejected the bill last month and its loyal majority in the National Assembly has made clear that it will block the initiative. Majority leaders reaffirmed this stance during the debate.
Armenia’s Electoral Code reserves 90 of the 131 seats in the National Assembly for the system of proportional representation. The remaining 41 seats are to be distributed in single-mandate constituencies across the country. Opposition politicians and media have long accused government-linked and wealthy candidates of bullying and bribing voters to get elected to the parliament from those constituencies.
“At least, don’t deceive our people and say that you are going to hold fair elections,” Armen Rustamian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, told the parliament majority during the debate “This just can’t happen if you enter the race with 41 mandates already in your pocket.”
Deputies from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) insisted, however, that the single-seat districts ensure a better representation of the electorate in the legislature. They also repeated the government’s declared commitment to the proper conduct of the upcoming elections.
Still, Davit Harutiunian, the chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs, did acknowledge that the system criticized by the opposition makes it easier for the ruling establishment to retain control over the parliament. “There is no secret here,” he told fellow lawmakers. “This system enables to create a stable majority in the parliament.”
Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian also referred to the need to have a “stable majority” in the assembly.