The Armenian government will lose public trust and its credibility abroad unless it makes changes in the new Electoral Code demanded by the opposition, a leader of the Armenian National Congress (HAK) claimed over the weekend.
Levon Zurabian said failure to reach a political consensus on the legislation essential for the conduct of next year’s Armenian parliamentary elections would jeopardize President Serzh Sarkisian’s hold on power.
“If [the authorities] are to be treated by the international community like a trustworthy partner, they have to reach agreement with the opposition and the civil society,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). Such a deal would also boost their standing among ordinary Armenians, he said.
The HAK and other opposition groups maintain that the Electoral Code does not provide for the freedom and fairness of the 2017 general elections that will predetermine who will govern Armenia after Sarkisian serves out his second and final term in 2018. They have proposed several amendments that would supposedly preclude or seriously complicate vote rigging. The government and the parliament majority loyal to it have rejected virtually all of those safeguards, making instead other concessions dismissed as insignificant by the opposition.
Although the National Assembly passed the Electoral Code in the final reading last week, a senior government representative reiterated that the Sarkisian administration is ready in principle to accept opposition amendments to the code.
The HAK insists on the acceptance of at least two such amendments: the removal from voter registers of those Armenians who live abroad and therefore cannot take part in the 2017 elections, and live online broadcasts of voting and counting of ballots from all polling stations. The party led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian still hopes that the government will agree to them.
The European Union and the Council of Europe have repeatedly stressed the importance of broad-based political support for the Armenian Electoral Code.
Last week, two representatives of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) criticized some of its key provisions, saying that they could undermine “public trust” in next year’s polls. After a fact-finding visit to Yerevan, they expressed concern at the “complexity” of the code and its requirements for the formation of coalition governments. But the PACE monitors stopped short of endorsing the opposition demands.