It is still not clear whether the Armenian authorities will implement a landmark agreement with the opposition on the proper conduct of next year’s parliamentary elections, a senior official in Yerevan said on Friday.
The deal took the form of significant amendments to Armenia’s new Electoral Code that were approved by the National Assembly in June.
The most important of those amendments call for the introduction of a biometric registry of voters meant 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 Armenian government also agreed to give opposition parties, non-partisan observers and media greater access to the lists of voters who will have cast ballots during the elections due in April 2017. 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 needed for these anti-fraud measures is estimated at 16 million euros ($17.8 million). The government made clear from the outset that the compromise deal will be annulled unless foreign donors provide the bulk of this sum.
In early July, a senior European Union diplomat signaled the EU’s readiness to foot much of the bill.
Hovannes Sahakian, a senior lawmaker representing the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), confirmed on Friday that the government has secured the donor funding. But he said that because of “logistical” issues the authorities have yet to decide whether they will be able to implement the deal. The decision should be made by the end of this month, Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The leader of Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), one of the four parliamentary opposition forces that negotiated the deal with the HHK, accused the authorities of deliberately dragging their feet. “I have reason to think that they don’t need free and fair elections,” Naira Zohrabian charged.
But Levon Zurabian, a leading member of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), was more cautious. He said that the HAK, which initiated the multi-party negotiations on the Electoral Code, is now awaiting an official confirmation by the Central Election Commission (CEC) that the 16 million euros have been raised.
The 2017 elections will come one year before Armenia switches to a parliamentary system of government. They will determine who will govern the country after President Serzh Sarkisian completes his final term in 2018.