A senior ruling party member in Armenia has claimed that the passage of a new Electoral Code drafted by the government will make unnecessary “more active work of the media”.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Wednesday Deputy Parliament Speaker Eduard Sharmazanov, who is also a spokesman for the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), in particular, addressed concerns of the opposition and civil society organizations about certain limitations proposed in the country’s future electoral laws by the current authorities.
The draft unveiled by the government last week suggests that no more than eight representatives of media and observers be allowed to be present at a polling station at a time. This sparked criticism from media representatives and experts as well as organizations and individuals that have been involved in election monitoring missions in Armenia. They assumed that it was a government response to a number of cases of fraud and other serious violations exposed by media and local observers during last year’s constitutional referendum. They believe that in practice this restriction will mean that only media and observers loyal to the authorities will be enabled to follow the course of the voting at polling stations.
“There surely must be some limit, because we have numerous media, maybe more than 100. I consider it physically impossible that 100, or even 50 or 60 media be present at a polling station at a time,” said Sharmazanov, denying that the restriction pursues the goal of making the vote less transparent.
“The goal of the Electoral Code is to practically eliminate all possibilities for fraud, such as ballot-box stuffing or multiple voting. If we adopt this Electoral Code, I believe that there won’t be a need for more active work of the media,” the senior HHK member added.
At the same time, Sharmazanov said that the proposed draft was just a basis for further discussions with opposition members and civil society representatives. “If it is written that there should be eight [media representatives or observers], it is not something like a dogma… As a result of discussions it may become six or 10,” he said.
The ruling party representative emphasized that discussions of the draft Electoral Code were still at the stage of beginning. “We are going to organize hearings at the National Assembly and the voice of the society, the opposition will be heard,” Sharmazanov said.
One of the key demands of the Armenian opposition is that the new Electoral Code should envisage post-election publication of the names of voters who go to the polls. Opposition groups believe that in the absence of such publication it is difficult to verify the longstanding claim that the authorities use the data of citizens absent from the country to rig the election.
Armenian authorities, however, insist that post-election publication of the names of voters contradicts the constitutionally guaranteed secrecy of ballot.
Sharmazanov ruled out that the point will make it to the final version of the draft law, explaining that it was once abolished after being recognized as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in 2003. It was about then that Armenian citizens outside the country were barred from voting in elections.
Armenia’s leading opposition parties, however, remain unconvinced, insisting that participation in elections is a public act and cannot therefore be considered a secret.