Representatives of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) have criticized some key provisions of Armenia’s new Electoral Code, saying that they could undermine “public trust” in next year’s Armenian parliamentary elections.
After a fact-finding visit to Yerevan, the two Armenia co-rapporteurs of the PACE’s Monitoring Committee expressed concern this week at the “complexity” of the code and its requirements for the formation of coalition governments.
“The new election system and electoral code, if implemented properly, could usher in an important new phase in Armenia’s democratic development,” Alan Meale and Giuseppe Galati said in a joint statement. “At the same time we fully concur with the [Council of Europe] Venice Commission’s concerns about the complexity of the code, which could have an impact on public trust in the electoral system.”
Meale and Galati also took issue with a provision in the Electoral Code stipulating that coalition governments can be formed by no more than three Armenian parties or blocs winning a combined majority of parliament seats. Those parties would also have to reach power-sharing agreements within days after the first round of voting in parliamentary elections.
The PACE rapporteurs believe that election contenders would have “very little time” to cut coalition deals. “They therefore welcomed indications that the period to form a coalition would be extended and called upon the ruling majority to consider dropping the three-party limit to form a government after the first round,” said the statement.
Meale and Galati met with President Serzh Sarkisian, other senior Armenian officials, opposition leaders and civil society representatives when they visited Yerevan earlier this month. The Electoral Code drafted by the Armenian government and strongly criticized by the opposition was a key focus of their talks.
Most of the country’s leading opposition groups maintain that the code does not provide for the proper conduct of the 2017 general elections that will predetermine who will govern Armenia after Sarkisian serves out his second and final term in 2018. They have proposed several amendments that would supposedly preclude or seriously complicate vote rigging.
The government and the parliament majority loyal to it have rejected virtually all of those safeguards, making instead other concessions dismissed as insignificant by the opposition.
The National Assembly passed the Electoral Code in the third and final reading on Wednesday. The chief of the government staff, Davit Harutiunian, reiterated that the Sarkisian administration is ready in principle to make changes in the code proposed by the opposition in the coming weeks or months.
“The broader the consensus, the better and more credible the Electoral Code will be,” Harutiunian told lawmakers. “If we manage to find after June 1 mutually acceptable mechanisms that will further improve the Electoral Code, we will be ready to convene an extraordinary session for making changes in the Electoral Code.”
Levon Zurabian, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), said his party and its allies “will continue to work towards reaching a consensus” on the crucial legislation.
The PACE rapporteurs stressed the importance of a broad-based agreement on the code. They said they “urged all political forces in Armenia to continue their dialogue on the new electoral code, and to seek compromise in order achieve as wide a consensus as possible.”