The National Assembly approved on Tuesday a government proposal to make it easier for Armenia’s citizens to set up political parties.
An Armenian law on parties has until now required them to have at least 200 co-founders and 2,000 members across the country. Amendments to the law drafted by the government and passed by the parliament in the first reading will cut those numbers by half.
Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian, who presented the amendments to lawmakers on Monday, said they will strengthen Armenians’ constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly and make parties less susceptible to outside “intervention.”
Hovannisian also made clear that none of the 79 parties currently existing, at least on paper, in Armenia will have to re-register with her ministry.
Only a small minority of those parties are represented in the parliament and have a major influence on Armenian politics.
During the parliament debate on the issue Naira Zohrabian of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) criticized the government’s desire to ease the registration rules, saying that there are already too many parties in the country. She claimed that the creation of new parties has been “a form of political business of extorting money from large parties during elections.”
“We all know well that those parties consist of two units: a person and their seal,” said Zohrabian. She did not name them, however.
Levon Martirosian, a deputy representing the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), attributed the large number of parties to a cumbersome procedure for their dissolution set by the existing law. He complained that the government bill does not simplify the dissolution process.
“This is the key problem, not the number of registered parties which, I’m sure, does not interfere with anyone or harm anything,” said Martirosian.
“OK, let’s try to facilitate the process and let them easily disband themselves,” replied Hovannisian. “I will consider your proposal.”
Edmon Marukian, another opposition lawmaker who recently set up a new party, complained about what he called a lack of equal conditions for political groups active in the country. He said that the HHK led by President Serzh Sarkisian has long been in a privileged position, using government resources and enjoying a friendly and extensive coverage by state television.