By Karine Kalantarian
The parliamentary elections slated for next spring will not be marred by serious irregularities, the chairman of Armenia’s Central Election Commission insisted on Friday, dismissing opposition claims to the contrary.
Garegin Azarian pointed to the enactment of fresh amendments to the Electoral Code and the CEC’s plans to put in place a computerized network which he said will allow for a more transparent and quicker counting and tabulation of votes.
The Armenian authorities say the amendments passed by the National Assembly this week will complicate ballot box stuffing and other forms of fraud that were commonplace during the previous parliamentary and presidential elections. In particular, voters will now have to put marked ballots into special envelops before casting them. Another amendment gives more rights to the proxies of election candidates as well as observers and journalists covering polling.
Armenia’s leading opposition forces downplay the significance of the enacted changes, saying that laws have been largely irrelevant to the conduct of Armenian elections. They also say some of the amendments will actually facilitate vote manipulation.
That includes a provision banning political parties from replacing their members sitting on various-level election commissions at will. Opposition leaders claim that many of them are bribed or bullied into turning a blind eye to fraud. They have also expressed serious concern about another provision that enables the government-controlled commissions to meet and take decisions without making a quorum.
But Azarian dismissed such concerns, insisting that the amended law will significantly contribute to the freedom and fairness of the 2007 elections. He also argued that the CEC will be connected to its divisions in all of Armenia’s 41 electoral districts through a computer network that will process and automatically tabulate election returns. “The tabulation process will be much quicker, simpler and more transparent,” he told a news conference.
The United States and the European Union have said that the forthcoming elections will put to the test the Armenian government’s democratic credentials and predetermine the success of its drive to forge closer links with the West. The administration of President Robert Kocharian has assured them that the polls will meet democratic standards. But Kocharian’s opponents claim that the authorities still lack the political to hold a clean vote and run the risk of losing power.
(Photolur photo: Garegin Azarian.)