The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has proposed alternative cooperation frameworks to the country’s other major political forces after they pledged to jointly strive to prevent serious fraud in next month’s parliamentary elections.
Parliament speaker Samvel Nikoyan, a senior HHK figure, met on Friday with representatives of all but one of those groups to discuss his idea of setting up a multi-partisan “working group” that would monitor the conduct of the May 6 polls. The group would specifically assess the enforcement of Armenia’s Electoral Code.
A statement by Nikoyan’s office said the non-Republican participants promised to report to their respective parties before officially responding to the speaker’s initiative.
Another senior HHK lawmaker, Davit Harutiunian, made a related proposal on behalf of his party late on Thursday. Harutiunian proposed a code of conduct which he said would ensure “civilized competition” among the eight parties and one alliance running for the parliament.
“We are proposing that all participants of the electoral process voluntarily adopt rules for civilized competition,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “That means they should also take on political responsibility and ensure that the common rules will be respected not only by their members, officials or proxies but also their sympathizers.”
According to the draft rules circulated by Harutiunian in a separate statement, the election contenders would pledge to not impede each other’s election campaigns, to avoid “provocative and slanderous” rhetoric, to respect freedom of speech and to refrain from illicitly exploiting “administrative resources.” Also, each political force would have to recognize official election results if other participants abide by the proposed code of conduct.
The HHK initiatives came after the party’s main partner in the governing coalition, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), and the country’s three main opposition groups agreed to set up a joint task force that would seek to detect, expose or prevent vote rigging. Their senior representatives signed a declaration on the creation of the Inter-Party Center for Public Oversight of the Elections on Wednesday.
The Armenian National Congress (HAK), the largest and most radical opposition group, was quick to reject the HHK overtures. “The main organizer and perpetrator of vote falsifications in Armenia is Serzh Sarkisian’s regime embodied by the Republican Party, and naturally such initiatives by that force are unacceptable,” HAK coordinator Levon Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Friday.
“The authorities are very worried about the creation by the four political forces of a joint coordinating center to fight against fraud,” Zurabian said. “Now they will come up with one initiative after another.”
Accordingly, HAK representatives boycotted the meeting chaired by Nikoyan.
The other political heavyweights reserved judgment on Harutiunian’s proposal. Naira Zohrabian, a BHK leader, said her party is looking into it and will respond “later on.”
“We don’t reject anything out of hand,” said Ruben Hakobian, deputy chairman of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party. “But we want proposed documents to have real mechanisms that would really ensure the holding of fair elections.”
Artush Shahbazian, a senior member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) implied that the code of conduct favored by the HHK should only be part of the broader cooperation framework agreed by the four forces. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Shahbazian suggested that Harutiunian present his ideas at their next meeting scheduled for April 11.
The HHK, which is headed by President Sarkisian, was also invited to join the Inter-Party Center for Public Oversight of the Elections but turned down the offer. The HHK’s Harutiunian said the idea of creating the unprecedented multi-partisan structure was “good in itself” but not “properly prepared.”