The government will amend Armenia’s new Electoral Code in a bid address serious concerns voiced by Armenian opposition groups and European experts, Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian said on Tuesday.
The controversial code, which the government pushed through the parliament late last month, will greatly influence the conduct and outcome of the next parliamentary elections. The vote is expected to be held in April 2017, one year before Armenia completes its ongoing transition to the parliamentary system of government.
“I think that a lot will become clear to you in the coming days: the sequence of steps, what kind of changes there will be, and when they are planned,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Hovannisian confirmed that the government is seeking more broad-based political support for the legislation which opposition parties say does not bode well for the proper conduct of the 2017 elections. “The door is not closed, and some discussions are still going on, and some changes are expected in terms of widening the existing consensus,” she said.
During talks with government representatives held in March-April, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and other opposition parties proposed several amendments that would supposedly preclude or seriously complicate electoral fraud. The government and the parliament majority loyal to it rejected virtually all of those safeguards, making instead other concessions dismissed as insignificant by the opposition.
Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s parliamentary leader, said on Tuesday that the government now does seem ready for more important concessions to the opposition. “We all seek to reach a broad consensus and want to restart talks for that purpose,” he said. “If an agreement is reached, it will be put into practice through amendments to the Electoral Code.”
The talks involving government ministers, senior members of the ruling Republican Party, opposition representatives as well as civil society members may resume as early as on Wednesday, added Zurabian.
The government also seems keen to satisfy the Council of Europe and the ODIHR, an election-monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In a joint report publicized earlier this week, the council’s Venice Commission and the ODIHR objected to a number of provisions of the Electoral Code. In particular, they said that it does not contain effective mechanisms for verifying Armenia’s notoriously inaccurate voter lists. They also questioned a highly complex system of electing members of the next Armenian parliament envisaged by the code.
As well as announcing upcoming changes in the code, Hovannisian insisted that it already contains “revolutionary solutions for proper organization of the electoral process.”