In a rare display of unity, Armenia’s leading opposition forces have urged the government to hold the forthcoming parliamentary elections on a solely party-list basis, a measure which they believe would complicate vote rigging.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party called for the abolition of elections held in single-seat constituencies in a joint statement issued on Wednesday. The Armenian National Congress (HAK), another major opposition group, was quick to back the demand.
But President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), which has a solid majority in the current parliament, rejected the idea.
Armenia’s existing electoral legislation distributes 90 of the 131 seats in the National Assembly under the system of proportional representations. The remaining deputies are elected on the first-past-the-post basis in 41 nationwide constituencies.
The opposition has long demanded that proportional representation be extended to the entire assembly, saying that it carries more safeguards against electoral fraud. Opposition leaders say voters electing individual parliamentarians in their districts are more vulnerable to government intimidation and vote buying.
They say this is the reason why opposition candidates rarely win in the single-mandate districts. The vast majority of those seats are now held by wealthy and government-connected individuals.
The statement by Dashnaktsutyun and Zharangutyun said that the Armenian authorities will demonstrate the seriousness of their pledges to ensure the proper conduct of the May 2012 elections if they accept the opposition demand.
Armen Rustamian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, warned on Wednesday that its rejection would mean that the authorities are only keen to ensure their “reproduction” through vote manipulation. “The single-mandate system gives the authorities an unfair advantage right from the beginning,” he told a news conference.
The HAK, which has an uneasy relationship with both opposition parties, welcomed their initiative as an “important and necessary step towards ensuring the legitimacy and transparency of the elections.” “The Congress is ready to cooperate on this issue with all political forces,” it said in a statement.
Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker and the spokesman for the ruling HHK, dismissed the opposition arguments and insisted that the single-mandate districts are particularly important for voters living outside Yerevan. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), he argued that most Armenian parties have few members and structures outside the capital.
Naira Zohrabian, a representative of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a junior partner in the governing coalition, said the BHK supports the opposition demand in principle but believes that the switch to a 100 percent party-list system should be gradual.
Earlier this month the HHK also rejected other anti-fraud safeguards demanded by the opposition. It said the Sarkisian administration is committed to holding democratic elections.