By Astghik Bedevian
The opposition minority in the Armenian parliament proposed on Tuesday fresh amendments to the country’s Election Code, saying they would prevent a possible falsification of the February 19 presidential election.
The parliament factions of the Orinats Yerkir and Zharangutyun parties said other amendments to the code that were adopted by the National Assembly earlier this month are too insignificant to complicate vote rigging.
The package of 16 draft amendments jointly circulated by them is primarily directed against multiple voting and vote buying, practices which opposition leaders claim were instrumental in pro-government parties’ landslide victory in the May parliamentary elections. It includes two specific changes demanded by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian at a recent rally. Those envisage that all ballots for the vote will be printed in a European Union member state and that voters casting them will have their fingers marked by indelible ink.
Ter-Petrosian alleged that the Armenian authorities printed hundreds of thousands of extra ballots ahead of the May elections and bribed tens of thousands of people to vote for pro-government parties in more than one polling station. He urged the international community to pressure the Armenian authorities into enacting these changes.
“The experience of the last elections exposed the numerous ways of ensuring multiple voting by a single person,” said Vartan Khachatrian, a Zharangutyun parliament and co-sponsor of the draft legislation.
The authorities already rejected the idea of inking voters’ fingers a year ago and during the adoption of the most recent changes in the Election Code. They enacted instead a provision requiring election officials to put special stamps in the passports of Armenians going to the polls.
Zharangutyun and Orinats Yerkir are also seeking a stricter ban on vote buying which wealthy pro-government candidates often present as an act of benevolence or “humanitarian assistance” to voters. The Election Code already prohibits provision of any goods or services during election campaigns. But the clause did not prevent some contenders of the May polls, notably the pro-presidential Prosperous Armenia Party, from handing out lavish gifts to local communities and individual voters.
The opposition bill would also place limits on the price of political advertising set by Armenian TV and radio stations. In particular, they would be banned from making election campaign ads more expensive than regular commercials aired by them.
Both opposition parties, who control only 15 seats in the 131-member National Assembly, admitted that their chances of pushing the amendments through the legislature are slim. “We can’t be very hopeful,” Hovannes Markarian of Orinats Yerkir told RFE/RL. “Some of our proposals were already rejected this month.”
“In any case, we must give it a try because we are accountable to the public,” said Khachatrian.
Samvel Nikoyan, a senior lawmaker from the governing Republican Party (HHK), made it clear that the opposition bill is unlikely to even reach the parliament floor. “The electoral process has already started,” he told RFE/RL. “It is meaningless and inadmissible to change rules mid-way through the process.”
“They [the opposition minority] are well aware that their proposals will never be debated at the National Assembly,” said Nikoyan.