Several civil society organizations have decided to boycott an ad hoc commission that will implement the Armenian government’s Western-backed agreement with the opposition aimed at preventing serious fraud in next year’s parliamentary elections.
The agreement reached in September led to the passage of major anti-fraud amendments to Armenia’s Electoral Code. The most significant of them is meant to preclude multiple voting by government supporters through the publication of the names of those voters that have actually cast ballots. The amended code also mandates live online broadcasts of voting and ballot counting in all 2,000 or so polling stations across the country.
Both the United States and the European Union have hailed landmark agreement, promising to pay for the purchase of equipment required for the planned broadcasts and electronic verification of voters’ identity.
As part of the deal, the government and three parliamentary opposition parties are to form a special commission that will organize the broadcasts, oversee the electronic voter registration, and scrutinize voter lists. The commission was supposed to comprise representatives of the government, the parliamentary opposition as well as civic groups that also took part in negotiations that resulted in the election deal.
Those NGOs said this week that they will not name representatives to the commission in protest against other amendments to the Electoral Code unacceptable to them. Daniel Ioannisian, who leads a group called the Union of Informed Citizens, singled out on Tuesday restrictions placed on the number and rights of election monitors. Joining the commission would legitimize those restrictions, he said.
“The law on freedom of information, the Electoral Code and other legislation already allow us to monitor [the electoral process] and joining that commission would not give us an additional [oversight] mechanism,” Ioannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), which was instrumental in the election agreement, regretted the NGO boycott, while insisting that the commission will start working as planned in time for the parliamentary elections slated for April.
“The process is planned in such a way that it will continue with or without their participation,” said Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s parliamentary leader. “Having said that, it would be good if the civil society participated in it on an equal footing.”
Hermine Naghdalian, a deputy parliament speaker affiliated with the ruling Republican Party, also regretted the boycott. She urged the NGOs to reconsider it.
In Zurabian’s words, Armenia’s Western donors will provide 16 million euros ($17.5 million) in funding for the implementation of the election accord.