The Armenian parliament began debating new electoral legislation on Monday amid a boycott announced by one of its opposition factions in protest against the government’s reluctance to introduce major safeguards against vote rigging.
The new Electoral Code drafted by the government and the ruling Republican Party (HHK) will significantly influence the conduct and outcome of general elections that be will held by May 2017, one year before Armenia completes its transition to the parliamentary system of government.
Levon Zurabian, the parliamentary leader of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), criticized the government for refusing to accept any of the key amendments to the draft code that were proposed by the Armenian opposition and civil society representatives.
Zurabian said he and other deputies representing the opposition party headed by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian will therefore not take part in the debates until the Armenian authorities embrace a “consensus” on the crucial bill.
Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker affiliated with the ruling HHK, insisted that the government side did make some concessions during talks with representatives of the HAK and other opposition and civic groups that ended on April 15. The latter dismiss, however, the resulting changes made in the draft code as insignificant.
The HAK boycott follows Ter-Petrosian’s overtures made to President Serzh Sarkisian shortly after the April 2 escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The two bitter political foes unexpectedly met on April 9 to discuss Armenia’s response to an Azerbaijani offensive in Karabakh. Ter-Petrosian went on to urge the Armenian opposition to put aside its differences with Sarkisian and strive for “national consolidation.”
Zurabian stressed that the HAK will not use the overtures for any “political haggling” with the Sarkisian administration. But he said the authorities must realize that Armenia needs “radical changes” in order to successfully deal with the increased risk of a full-scale war with Azerbaijan.
“There must be an end to corruption, plunder and electoral fraud,” Zurabian told the parliament. “Unfortunately, the authorities’ actions do not suggest that they have learned serious lessons from what happened [in Karabakh] and are ready to engage the domestic public for the sake of national consolidation.”