By Hrach Melkumian
The Armenian parliament approved in the first reading on Monday a set of supposedly anti-fraud amendments to the electoral legislation without changing its two provisions that are of greatest concern to the main political groups.
The National Assembly voted almost unanimously to amend the Election Code despite the failure of the pro-government factions controlling it to agree on how to elect the next legislature and form commissions holding elections in Armenia. The four factions loyal to President Robert Kocharian remain divided on the issue.
According to Rafik Petrosian, chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs, they will again try to bridge their differences. “Although there are still disagreements on some issues among the political forces … we agreed to solve the two problems before adopting the amendments in the second reading,” he told RFE/RL.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Orinats Yerkir Party, the junior partners in President Robert Kocharian’s coalition cabinet, are pushing for a major increase in the number of parliament seats contested on the party list basis. The Republican Party of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, which has the biggest parliament faction, is opposed to that.
Under the existing law, 75 members of the parliament are chosen under the system of proportional representation, while the remaining 56 parliament seats are distributed in single-mandate constituencies across the country. Dashnaktsutyun, Orinats Yerkir and the leading opposition forces say the proportional system complicates electoral fraud and strengthens political parties.
Another bone of contention is the existing mechanism for the formation of the commissions which gives the Armenian authorities overwhelming control over the electoral process. Leading European election experts concluded in a report earlier this year that it is a “serious obstacle to the impartiality of the electoral administration.”
“In essence, the National Assembly was presented with an incomplete product. The key problems of the code have not been solved,” said Victor Dallakian, a senior lawmaker from the parliament’s biggest opposition faction, Artarutyun.
Dallakian also downplayed the significance of any election law amendments in Armenia, saying that the authorities can hold free and fair elections even with the existing legislation. But he said Artarutyun, which has been boycotting parliament sessions since February, will nonetheless put forward its own amendments to the pro-Kocharian majority. Those would, among other things, abolish the single-mandate constituencies and give more rights to the proxies of election candidates, he added.