The Armenian government warned on Thursday that its landmark compromise deal with the opposition will fall through unless international donors finance the purchase of special equipment that would be used for preventing fraud in next year’s parliamentary elections.
The government and three major opposition parties reached the agreement on June 15 after three months of negotiations on a controversial Electoral Code adopted by the Armenian parliament last month. They worked out amendments to the government-drafted code aimed at facilitating the proper conduct of the elections due in April 2017.
The most important of those amendments call for the introduction of a biometric registry of voters which is supposed to prevent multiple voting by government loyalists. This would be done through electronic machines that check voters’ identity through new, plastic ID cards containing their fingerprints.
The government agreed to also give opposition parties, non-partisan observers and media greater access to the lists of voters who will have cast ballots in the elections. They would be released by the same machines to be placed in Armenia’s 2,000 or so polling stations.
In addition, the Armenian authorities would install video cameras in all of those stations and ensure live broadcasts of voting and ballot counting there through the Internet.
Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian’s cabinet formally approved these draft amendments at a weekly session in Yerevan. But it again made clear that will not pay for the relevant equipment, worth an estimated $16 million, from the state budget.
“If the Central Election Commission does not announce by September 1 that it has raised funds needed for acquiring the equipment and software for ID cards, this bill will be deemed null and void,” said Artur Sargsian, the deputy chief of the government staff.
“Is September 1 a reasonable deadline?” asked Abrahamian. “I do realize that international institutions should provide the funding. But can we solve this issue by September 1?”
Vigen Sargsian, the chief of the presidential administration also present at the cabinet meeting, defended the deadline, saying that the Armenian authorities need at least several months to install the equipment, fingerprint more than 1.5 million eligible voters and distribute the ID cards to them.
“If this process doesn’t start now, if we don’t see that our partners are ready, as they have assured us, to provide serious financial resources, it will be technically impossible to accomplish that,” said Sargsian.
The official added that the government is already discussing the matter with the United Nations and European Union offices in Yerevan.