Representatives of Armenia’s government and three major opposition parties signed on Tuesday a new agreement aimed at preventing possible fraud in next year’s crucial parliamentary elections.
The deal contains a set of anti-fraud amendments to the Electoral Code that are due to be adopted by the Armenian parliament soon.
The most significant amendment aims to preclude multiple voting by government supporters through the publication of the names of those voters that have cast ballots, according to official protocols. Opposition parties will be able to verify whether those voters actually live in Armenia.
The government also agreed to ensure live online broadcasts of voting and ballot counting in all 2,000 or so polling stations across the country.
Levon Zurabian, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), praised the government for displaying a “political will” to reach the “historic” deal. “Despite our political rivalry, we can’t fail to acknowledge that,” he said after the signing ceremony.
Zurabian announced that Western donors have already agreed to provide Armenia with about 9 million euros ($10 million) for the purchase of equipment required by the amendments.
Davit Harutiunian, the chief of the government staff, said the deal bodes well for not only the proper conduct of the elections but also the emergence of a more democratic political culture in Armenia. “Political dialogue is the basis for a country’s development,” he told a news conference.
Zurabian also cautioned: “I want everyone to keep in mind that this alone is not a guarantee of free and fair elections. We need to keep fighting for free and fair elections. But this is a foundation on which we can build such elections.”
Naira Zohrabian, the leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), similarly said that the agreed amendments will “substantially narrow the room for fraud” in the general elections due in April 2017.
Mher Shahgeldian of the Orinats Yerkir Party, the third opposition signatory, echoed that assessment. But he also expressed concern at other Electoral Code provisions that restrict the number of observers and journalist who can be present in polling stations.
Several Armenian civil society organizations also pointed to those restrictions on Monday when they reacted cautiously to the announcement of the election accord. They said the agreed anti-fraud measures are “a necessary but not sufficient condition” for the freedom and fairness of the polls.
The government and the three opposition parties had already struck a similar deal in June. But it subsequently collapsed after the government cited logistical problems relating to the acquisition of expensive electronic equipment designed to prevent multiple voting.