The Armenian authorities officially confirmed on Monday that they will not implement a recent agreement with the opposition that was supposed to ensure the proper conduct of next year’s parliamentary elections.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) attributed the deal’s collapse to logistical problems related to the introduction of a biometric registry of voters meant to prevent multiple voting by government loyalists.
The compromise agreement reached with three parliamentary opposition parties in June committed the authorities to installing electronic machines that would check voters’ identity through plastic ID cards containing their fingerprints.
The landmark deal, which took the form of amendments to Armenia’s new Electoral Code, also envisaged live online broadcasts of voting and ballot counting from all 2,000 or so polling stations across the country.
The total cost of the special equipment needed for these anti-fraud measures was estimated at 16 million euros ($17.8 million). The government made clear from the outset that the deal will be annulled unless foreign donors provide the bulk of this sum. The government reportedly secured the funding from the European Union and other donors in July.
The CEC chairman, Tigran Mukuchian, publicized on Monday a government letter saying that a Polish company contracted by the authorities in Yerevan has notified them that it will be unable to start publishing the ID cards before a September 1 deadline set by the Electoral Code. The company can launch the process only in December, just four months before the 2017 elections, the government claimed.
Mukuchian said that in these circumstances the CEC and its nationwide divisions would not have sufficient time to introduce the new voter registry. The deal with the opposition should therefore be considered null and void, he said after a meeting of the electoral body.
Some opposition politicians accused the authorities of walking away the deal even before the CEC announcement. They claimed that President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration is not interested in the freedom and fairness of the elections.
Two opposition parties, Prosperous Armenia and the Armenian National Congress (HAK), have at the same time urged the government agree to another major safeguard against multiple voting. It would require the CEC to publish the lists of voters who will have cast ballots on polling day.
The spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Eduard Sharmazanov, indicated late last week that the authorities will now try to negotiate an alternative compromise accord with the parliamentary opposition. But he would not be drawn on possible government concessions.