Armenia’s government, parliamentary opposition parties and civil society representatives have failed to reach an agreement on a new Electoral Code that could seriously influence the outcome of next year’s parliamentary elections.
The talks began on March 30 and ended on April 15, centering on a set of concrete changes demanded by the opposition and civic groups in the code drafted by the government and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and National Revival parties confirmed the failure of the talks in a joint statement issued late on Tuesday. It said the government side “effectively” rejected all their demands backed by non-governmental organizations involved in civil rights advocacy.
“The authorities must realize that the challenges facing Armenia can be overcome only in an environment of public trust,” read the statement. “The best way to achieve that … is a radical reform of the electoral system and a complete dismantling of the system of electoral fraud.”
The HAK and other groups critical of the government have been seeking five specific safeguards against vote rigging. The most important of them is a post-election publication of the names of those voters who went to the polls and cast ballots. They say this would preclude multiple voting by government loyalists, one of the most common forms of fraud reported in recent years’ Armenian elections.
The government and the HHK have rejected this measure, saying that it would breach the secrecy of ballots. Hovannes Sahakian, a senior lawmaker representing the ruling party, insisted on Wednesday that the draft code provides for the conduct of “good elections.”
Aram Manukian, an HAK leader, dismissed those assurances. “Right now I can’t tell you any encouraging news,” he told journalists, commenting on the two-week talks.
Manukian stressed that the HAK, which is headed by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, still hopes to secure concessions from the government and is open to “constructive proposals” from the latter.
Ter-Petrosian unexpectedly met with Sarkisian on April 9 to discuss Armenia’s response to the April 2 outbreak of heavy fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh.The ex-president, who has been a bitter critic of the government, went on to urge the Armenian opposition to put aside its differences with Sarkisian and strive for a “national consolidation.”
The HHK praised Ter-Petrosian’s stance last week. It remains to be seen whether Sarkisian will reciprocate the opposition leader’s overtures on the domestic political front.