Three opposition parties campaigning against President Serzh Sarkisian’s constitutional amendments have named their representatives to the vast majority of Armenia’s election commissions that will hold the December 6 referendum.
Under Armenian law, the Armenian National Congress (HAK), Zharangutyun and Orinats Yerkir parties are allowed to appoint one member of the nationwide precinct and district election commissions each because of being represented in the parliament. The remaining commission seats are mostly controlled by representatives of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and other government loyalists.
According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), only Orinats Yerkir has managed to fully use its quotas. Zharangutyun has failed to name members of 118 of the 2,000 or so precinct commissions, while the HAK will not be represented in 245 of them. Those vacant seats will now be filled by the mainly pro-government commission chairpersons.
The HAK’s deputy chairman, Levon Zurabian, insisted on Thursday that the opposition party is satisfied with the selection process. “We have strived to pick individuals who have demonstrated in the past that they can’t be bribed or bullied and do not back away in the face of various pressures,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Vahram Baghdasarian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader, mocked the two opposition parties for the personnel shortage. “If they can’t find 2000 people, how many votes can they get?” he said.
“We should help our opposition colleagues find [enough] trustworthy people,” Baghdasarian added with sarcasm.
The HAK, which is a key member of the No Front alliance of constitutional reform opponents, believes that opposition presence in the election commissions will be essential for preventing or minimizing fraud in the upcoming referendum. Zurabian again claimed that the authorities will try to rig the referendum results and enact the sweeping amendments seen as crucial for President Serzh Sarkisian’s political future.
Speaking at a No Front rally in Yerevan late last month, Zurabian said that the opposition grouping should also deploy monitors and proxies in many polling stations across the country on referendum day. He referred to them as an “army of citizens prepared for a fight.”
Zaruhi Postanjian, an outspoken Zharangutyun leader, was more skeptical about such monitoring, saying that the authorities have many vote rigging techniques in their arsenal. “We have already witnessed [in past elections] that when the authorities are not getting their desired results the whole electronic [vote tabulation] system breaks down,” she said.
Zharangutyun is part of a separate coalition of more radical opposition groups that has pledged to launch a campaign of “civil disobedience” ahead of the referendum.
HHK leaders have repeatedly stated that the Sarkisian administration is committed to holding a clean vote on December 6.