By Ruzanna Stepanian
An opposition member of the Central Election Commission (CEC) claimed on Tuesday to have found serious discrepancies between Armenia’s recently amended electoral code and its copies circulated by the government-controlled body.
Felix Khachatrian said the 5,000 copies distributed by the CEC to its territorial divisions contain glaring omissions that could facilitate fraud in the next parliamentary and presidential elections. He singled out a missing sentence in the code’s Article 7 which obligates the electoral authorities to release final figures for the nationwide voter turnout during an election by next mid-day.
The Armenian opposition has accused the authorities in the past of inflating the number of people taking part in elections in order to falsify their results. Such allegations were sometimes given weight by international observers, most recently during the May 2003 parliamentary elections characterized by voter apathy. Anecdotal evidence at the time suggested that the turnout in Yerevan may have been lower than was claimed in official reports.
Khachatrian, who represents the opposition Artarutyun alliance in the CEC, told reporters that the body dominated by President Robert Kocharian’s loyalists rejected his demands to publish corrections in a separate brochure. He said failure to do so could result in additional, unintentional violations of the electoral legislation at the next polls.
The CEC chairman, Garegin Azarian, and his aides were not immediately available for comment. Azarian and eight other members of the commission were appointed by President Robert Kocharian on July 20 in accordance with a package of amendments to the electoral code passed by parliament in May. They introduced no major changes in the mechanism for the formation of the CEC and lower-level commissions, with Kocharian continuing to effectively control them.
But some of the other amendments are significant. One of them gives more rights to proxies of election candidates. Khachatrian said that this provision will complicate vote rigging. But he added that he believes that the freedom and fairness of Armenian elections still primarily depends on the government’s “goodwill,” rather than laws.