By Karine Kalantarian
President Robert Kocharian has signed into law a controversial parliament bill that introduces important changes in Armenia's electoral system favoring Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and his Republican Party (HHK). The move, announced by Kocharian's office on Thursday, came despite strong objections voiced by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), another major presidential ally.
The most important of the amendments, passed by the HHK-controlled parliament on July 3, reduces from 94 to 75 the number of parliament seats contested under the system of proportional representation. It increases from 37 to 56 the number of seats allocated in single-mandate constituencies where government-connected wealthy candidates have traditionally held sway.
Dashnaktsutyun and other parliamentary parties had urged Kocharian to veto the legislation, accusing the Republicans of breaking a November 2000 multi-party agreement setting the previous ratio of parliament seats.
Dashnaktsutyun's parliamentary leader, Aghvan Vartanian, on Thursday again deplored the legislative changes but stopped short of criticizing Kocharian for endorsing them. Vartanian instead renewed attacks on the HHK, saying that Markarian's party reneged on the 2000 deal because it is unable to make a strong showing under the "party-list" system and wants to capitalize on its control of many government structures.
"We know how people get elected from the single-mandate districts. Money and government levers play a tremendous role there," he told RFE/RL.
The vast majority of Armenian parties have long argued that proportional representation makes vote rigging more difficult and fosters development of a multi-party democracy. Kocharian had endorsed those arguments in late 2000 but now appears reluctant to challenge the Republicans and their allies for fear of losing their support ahead of next year's presidential elections.
Besides, the changes in the Armenian Electoral Code will allow the president to appoint three out of nine members of various-level election commissions. The remaining seats will be controlled by the six parties and blocs represented in the National Assembly. Most of them are loyal to Kocharian.