A senior official who administered Armenia’s last national elections acknowledged on Monday that he would like to head the new Central Election Commission (CEC) which will be appointed by President Serzh Sarkisian soon.
Garegin Azarian expressed such hope after presiding over the last meeting of the outgoing CEC. The 8-member body conducted the February 2008 presidential election which was marred by opposition allegations of vote rigging and followed by deadly street unrest in Yerevan.
The CEC will be disbanded in accordance with a package of amendments to the Armenian Electoral Code that were enacted by the authorities in May.
The most important of those amendments relates to the formation of various-level commissions holding national and local elections. Until now, the president of the republic, a high court and the political forces represented in the Armenian parliament have each appointed one member of those commissions.
Under the amended code, this mostly partisan mechanism will only apply to precinct-level commissions. The CEC and a dozen commissions running national electoral districts will be formed by Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, the Court of Cassation and the national bar association. President Serzh Sarkisian can only appoint CEC members nominated by them.
Azarian is the sole member of the outgoing CEC who will likely join the new electoral authority. He is one of the two nominees presented to Sarkisian by the chairman of the Court of Cassation.
When asked by journalists whether he would like to head the new CEC, Azarian said, “Do you think that I want to stay on only as a CEC member?”
Azarian was nominated by the court after unexpectedly failing to secure one of three other CEC seats reserved for Ombudsman Karen Andreasian. The latter selected the three nominees last week as a result of a job competition announced by his office.
Two of them, Aida Muradian and Roza Stepanian, are former and current employees of a law firm which Andreasian ran before being elected human rights ombudsman earlier this year. Both women withdrew their candidacies on Monday, citing “unfair attacks” from pro-opposition media that seized upon this fact.
Andreasian said through a spokesperson that he will replace them by two other nominees by July 12.
The two remaining members of the new CEC were recommended by Ruben Sahakian, the chairman of the national Chamber of Advocates. One of them is a lawyer, while the other heads one of the existing district election commissions.
The latest changes in the Electoral Code stem from sweeping political reforms that have been promised by the Armenian authorities to the Council of Europe. The Strasbourg-based organization’s Venice Commission, which monitors legal reforms in Council of Europe member states, has made a largely positive assessment of them.
Armenian officials say that the new mechanism for the formation of electoral bodies will make them more independent and less partisan. Opposition politicians dismiss these assurances, saying that Sarkisian and his political allies will continue to control all aspects of the electoral process.