The National Assembly approved on Wednesday major amendments to Armenia’s new Electoral Code that stem from a compromise agreement reached by the government and the parliamentary opposition earlier this month.
Government officials again made clear, however, that the amendments regulating the conduct of next year’s parliamentary elections will be annulled unless foreign donors pay for the purchase of special equipment needed for their implementation.
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. The lists would be released by the same machines.
In addition, the authorities would install video cameras in all of Armenia’s 2,000 or so polling stations and ensure live broadcasts of voting and ballot counting there through the Internet.
The total cost of the special equipment required by the amended Electoral Code is estimated by officials at $16 million. The government has agreed to foot only a small part of the bill.
“We are not going to provide the rest of the sum from the state budget,” Davit Harutiunian, the main government negotiator with the opposition, told lawmakers during parliamentary debates on Tuesday.
“We expect all political forces that value this agreement to work with us in raising the money,” he said, referring to the three opposition parties that signed the compromise deal on June 15.
Vahram Baghdasarian, the parliamentary leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), claimed that the donors can easily provide the necessary sum. “It may be a lot of money for us, but for them it’s like filling a glass with water from the Pacific Ocean,” he said.
But Levon Zurabian, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), insisted that the onus is on the Armenian authorities to implement the amendments. Failure to ensure that would mean that the authorities have reneged on the deal with the opposition, he warned.