Ten days before the deadline for a final decision on introducing a set of safeguards to ensure a better conduct of elections in Armenia, a parliamentary party that was part of the landmark deal with the government claims most of the promised mechanisms are unlikely to be implemented.
The agreement between the authorities led by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and opposition factions in the parliament, including the second largest parliamentary faction of Prosperous Armenia (BHK), 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 next parliamentary 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 was estimated at 16 million Euros ($17.8 million). The government made it clear from the outset that the compromise deal will be annulled unless foreign donors provide the bulk of this sum by September 1.
According to BHK leader Naira Zohrabian, the authorities have foiled the process and most of the safeguards will remain on paper despite the fact that the problem of funding was solved still last month.
“They understood that the downloading of all 10 fingerprints of every eligible voter would practically exclude any loophole for multiple voting,” Zohrabian said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday, claiming that “this option is unsuitable” for the government.
Still in early July, a senior European Union diplomat signaled the EU’s readiness to provide much of the funding required for the introduction of antifraud mechanisms in Armenian elections.
Senior HHK representative Hovannes Sahakian confirmed earlier this month that the government had secured the donor funding. But he warned that because of “logistical” issues the authorities had yet to decide whether they could implement the deal.
HHK parliamentary faction head Vahram Baghdasarian also dismissed accusations, saying that the government is not to blame for the failure of the agreement.
“We are not against it. It is they [the opposition] who can’t manage it. The organization, which is responsible for technical support, says that physically there is no time to do it,” Baghdasarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on the phone.
According to Zohrabian, as an alternative to the introduction of the electronic registration system they are now discussing with the authorities the option of post-election publication of signed voter lists.
“But the post-election publication of signed voter lists will only be acceptable if concrete crimes such as falsification, forged signatures and others are punished more strictly,” said Zohrabian.
Meanwhile, in their second joint opinion on the amended Electoral Code of Armenia the Venice Commission and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) commended Armenia’s majority party and opposition for their compromise agreement concerning “additional amendments bringing about, in particular, the use of new technologies for the oversight of the electoral process, on condition that adequate funding is secured.”
“Many of these additional amendments may be seen as measures to increase public confidence in the new electoral system and procedures. This situation shows a welcome constructive attitude on the part of both the majority and the opposition, which may be conducive to the good faith implementation of the new Electoral Code. The Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR underscore their support for this spirit of compromise and their wish for it to continue to prevail as regards the implementation of the Electoral Code and the election of a new Central Electoral Commission in the autumn of 2016,” reads the document.
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.