Armenia’s government and parliamentary opposition have reached a new, tentative agreement to ensure the freedom and fairness of next year’s general elections through a set of legal safeguards against fraud.
A senior opposition figure said over the weekend that the deal, if implemented, will “substantially” reduce possibilities of vote irregularities.
The two sides already cut such a deal in June, with the Armenian parliament passing corresponding amendments to the country’s Electoral Code. It called, among other things, for the introduction of a biometric national registry of voters that would supposedly prevent multiple voting by government loyalists.
That agreement collapsed last month after the government said a Polish manufacturer of electronic voter registration machines contracted by it will not be able to deliver them in time for the elections due in April 2017.
Opposition parties and the Armenian National Congress (HAK) in particular responded by proposing an alternative arrangement that would commit the authorities to taking other anti-fraud measures.They singled out the publication of lists of those voters who will have cast ballots on polling day.
Armenian opposition and civil society groups have long been saying that such a measure would preclude multiple fraudulent voting. The government opposed it until recently.
The HAK’s deputy chairman, Levon Zurabian, said the government and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) accepted this and other key opposition demands in an agreement that was finalized on Saturday. Those demands also include live online broadcasts of voting and ballot counting in all of Armenia’s 2,000 polling stations, he said.
Armenia - Levon Zurabian, the deputy chairman of the opposition Armenian National Congress, speaks at a news conference, Yerevan, 17Feb2016.
“I think that this is a big achievement which allows us to completely change rules of the game,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We will call on the people to actively participate in the elections because from now on the scale of possible irregularities will be substantially curtailed.”
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), which also pre-signed the deal, similarly stressed its importance and expressed hope that the authorities will implement it. Naira Zohrabian, the BHK leader, said the two sides need to settle “a number of issues” before formalizing the deal.
In particular, she said, the authorities should extend legal deadlines for legal appeals against official election results.
President Serzh Sarkisian expressed hope that the new election-related accord will be concluded “in the next two or three days” as he present his choice of Armenia’s next prime minister, Karen Karapetian, to the HHK leadership on Friday. He said the impending deal testifies to his administration’s commitment to major political and economic reforms.
Zurabian again claimed that multiple voting has for years enabled Sarkisian and the ruling party to add more than 500,000 non-existent votes to their tallies in the presidential and parliamentary elections as well as last December’s constitutional referendum. The agreed measures will essentially preclude that practice, he said.
Zurabian cautioned at the same time that the deal will not eliminate two other major sources of fraud: vote buying and the HHK’s abuse of government resources. Still, he said, the “new political atmosphere” emerging in Armenia may make it harder for the authorities to buy votes and force many people to back their candidates.
The parliamentary elections will be held one year before Armenia’s completes its transition to a parliamentary system of government and Sarkisian serves out his final presidential term. They will therefore determine who will govern the country after 2017.