Legal experts from the Council of Europe continue to support the Armenian government in rejecting a key safeguard against election fraud demanded by the opposition, Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian claimed on Friday.
Hovannisian referred to opposition demands for post-election disclosure of the names of those eligible voters who actually went to the polls.
Opposition leaders and civil society representatives believe that by comparing that information with other documents drawn up by election commissions they would be able to expose fraudulent votes cast in the name of those voters who are absent from Armenia or did not take part in elections. They say that multiple voting by government loyalists has become one of the most serious and widespread forms of vote rigging in the country.
The government and its political allies oppose such a measure, saying that it would breach the secrecy of ballots mandated by the Armenian constitution. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission effectively sided with them in 2012.
Hovannisian claimed that the commission reaffirmed this stance at a meeting of its governing body held on March 16. Speaking to journalists, the minister said the commission believes that observes and election candidates should only be given brief access to some voter lists in “exceptional cases.”
Levon Zurabian, a leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), dismissed the minister’s claim. “Apparently, the authorities are seeking to strengthen their positions by using some internal [Venice Commission] document that refers to its past decision,” he told RFE/RL’ Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The Venice Commission has made no public statements on the issue yet. It is currently examining a controversial Electoral Code that was drafted by the government last month.
The HAK, other opposition parties as well as civic organizations have strongly criticized the proposed code, saying that it does not provide for the proper conduct of Armenia’s next general elections due in April or May 2017. They have proposed a set of amendments in the election bill which they say would seriously complicate vote irregularities. The anti-fraud safeguard in question is one of them.
The government side has so far rejected virtually all of the opposition demands. Nevertheless, it agreed to start earlier this week negotiations with the opposition and civic groups aimed at trying to work out mutually acceptable changes in the country’s electoral legislation.