The National Assembly passed in the first reading on Wednesday a new Electoral Code which opposition parties say precludes the proper conduct of Armenia’s next parliamentary elections due in May 2017.
The parliament approved the crucial bill drafted by the Armenian government by 98 votes to 9, with 5 abstentions, after President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party refused to make significant concessions to the opposition.
The two sides held a series of negotiations earlier this month on several changes to the code that were put forward by Levon Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) and backed by other opposition parties and civic groups. The proposed changes were aimed at preventing serious vote irregularities.
The HAK said earlier this week that it could back the code if the ruling party agrees to meet only two of its demands: mandatory videotaping of voting and ballot counting and removal from voter lists of those Armenian nationals who live abroad. The latter measure would purportedly prevent multiple voting by government loyalists, one of the most serious forms of fraud reported in recent years’ Armenian elections.
The government and the HHK made other, less significant changes in the code before pushing it through the parliament. The opposition minority dismissed them.
The parliament’s pro-government speaker, Galust Sahakian, sparked another controversy when he refused to allow opposition lawmakers to make final statements on procedural issues right before the vote. They denounced that as a serious violation of the parliament’s statutes.
“This cannot be considered a legitimate law,” said Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s parliamentary leader. “This is a disgrace.”
Sahakian and one of his two deputies, Hermine Naghdalian, brushed aside the opposition protests.
The 2017 elections will essentially determine who will govern Armenia after Sarkisian completes his second and final presidential term in 2018. In accordance with Sarkisian’s controversial constitutional changes enacted late last year, Armenia will switch to the parliamentary system of government at that time.