The Armenian National Congress (HAK) demanded on Wednesday that President Serzh Sarkisian’s government accept alternative legal safeguards against vote rigging after refusing to implement a recent agreement with the opposition on the proper conduct of Armenia’s next parliamentary elections.
The agreement called, among other things, for the introduction of a biometric national registry of voters that would supposedly prevent multiple voting by government loyalists. Citing logistical problems, the government stated on Monday that it will be unable to purchase and install relevant equipment in time for the elections due in April 2017.
The announcement thus rendered null and void a set of anti-fraud amendments to Armenia’s new Electoral Code that were worked out by the government, the HAK and three other opposition parties in June.
The deal also committed the Sarkisian administration to ensuring live online broadcasts of voting and ballot counting from all 2,000 or so polling stations across the country.
In a statement, the HAK said that the authorities must take and this and several other, alternative anti-fraud measures in order to prove their stated commitment to the freedom and fairness of the 2017 polls.
The opposition party led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian singled out the publication of lists of those voters who will have cast ballots on polling day. Armenian opposition and civil society groups have long been saying that such a measure would preclude multiple fraudulent voting. The government has opposed it until now.
The HAK statement said the authorities must also enact other amendments to the Electoral Code that would extend legal deadlines for appeals against official election results and toughen punishments for various forms of electoral fraud.
The HAK’s deputy chairman, Levon Zurabian, warned that failure to enact such amendments would be fraught for “disastrous” consequences for the Armenian government. He said it would make more Armenians think that armed revolt is the only way of effecting regime change in the country.
Vahram Baghdasarian, the parliamentary leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), insisted that the authorities are still ready to amend the Electoral Code in order to boost public trust in the integrity of the electoral process. He said government representatives are now holding talks with the parliamentary opposition and civil society which may well yield a new election deal later this week.
“Discussions are continuing with opposition colleagues and civil society members,” Baghdasarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). The authorities may finally agree to the publication of voter lists demanded by the opposition, he said.