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Civil Group Seeks ‘Joint Effort’ On Electoral Legislation


Armenia -- ‘New Armenia’ Public Salvation Front and ‘No’ front hold a joint protest action on Freedom Square, Yerevan, 07Dec2015

Armenia -- ‘New Armenia’ Public Salvation Front and ‘No’ front hold a joint protest action on Freedom Square, Yerevan, 07Dec2015

A pressure group that opposed the passage of constitutional changes in last year’s referendum plans to seek a joint effort of civil initiatives and political parties in drafting Armenia’s next electoral code.

Like leading opposition parties, the initiative called “You Won’t Pass It” believes that the draft presented by the Armenian government last week does not address their main concerns regarding anti-fraud safeguards.

Activist David Hovannisian said that there were a few key points on which there was a broad consensus in civil society and among political groups. These are post-election publication of the names of voters, the opportunity of live streaming from polling precincts and electoral stains.

“We are going to organize a forum at which we will state about this. All will see what Armenia’s civil society and political parties demand and then we’ll need to see that these demands become a reality,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am), adding that they are currently in active negotiations with political and civil forces regarding the matter.

At least one major opposition party, the Armenian National Congress (HAK), last week also indicated that it would seek a broad-based effort and a joint push for changes that they wanted to be included in the draft that was approved by the Armenian government last Thursday.

Levon Zurabian, the parliamentary leader of the HAK, said that none of the party’s four key demands were addressed in the document. These demands also include post-election publication of the names of voters, use of electoral stains to preclude multiple voting, video recording at polling stations and adjacent areas on election days, as well as better mechanisms for verification of electoral rolls.

Armenian authorities insist that at least one of these demands – post-election publication of the names of voters – will not be met in the final version of the legislation because it arguably contradicts the constitutionally guaranteed secrecy of ballot.

Armenian oppositionists contend that participation in elections is a public act and cannot therefore be considered a secret. They routinely refer to the fact that before 2003 the names of people who went to the polls were published in Armenia. In this context, however, representatives of the government refer to the 2003 ruling by the Constitutional Court that found such publication to be unconstitutional, after which it was prohibited in all subsequent elections.

Still, Hovannisian from “You Won’t Pass It” believes it is worthwhile trying to promote their agenda. “The international community has clearly stated that the Electoral Code and the 2017 [parliamentary] elections will be an acid test for the Armenian authorities to prove that they are taking a democratic path of development. And, therefore, the authorities will have to make certain concessions,” he said. “We must be able to use this opportunity.”

A number of observers, however, believe that the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and its loyalists will not concede on major issues, but will rather offer compromises on other controversial provisions that they have purportedlyincluded in the draft on purpose to have a matter for bargaining. Among such provisions they single out the limitation of the presence of media and observers at polling stations.

HHK representatives, however, consider the draft Electoral Code to be a step forward. Last week, HHK spokesperson Eduard Sharmazanov insisted that the document creates “a basis for having a more democratic Armenia.” He, at the same time, said that all stakeholders will have a chance to participate in a debate on the presented draft.

“The political leadership has the political will to hear realistic proposals from both the opposition and civil society,” Sharmazanov stressed.

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