Armenia’s government and three major opposition parties have reached a new agreement to ensure live online broadcasts of voting and ballot counting in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The government had agreed to install web cameras in all of the country’s 2,000 or so polling stations as part of a September 2016 deal with the parliamentary opposition aimed at minimizing electoral fraud.
The government warned last week, however, that it may be unable to do that due to financial reasons. A senior government official said a single private company interested in providing and operating the broadcasting equipment has set a disproportionately high price for its services.
A special multi-partisan commission implementing the September scrambled to find a way around this financial hurdle.
An opposition member of the commission, Avetis Avagian, announced on Thursday that it has worked out an alternative cost-cutting solution whereby cameras will be installed in at least 1,500 polling stations across Armenia. He said 93 percent of the country’s eligible voters reside in those precincts.
“This is a minimum number,” Avagian told reporters. “There is still room for increasing the number of cameras.”
Avagian said that the new deal was made possible by the European Union’s decision to raise to 2 million euros ($2.2 million) the amount of its funding for the purchase of the broadcasting equipment.He said the head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, Piotr Switalski, has also helped to convince the government to promise that the equipment will be exempt from a 20 percent import tax.
Avagian, who represents the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), went on to praise the government for the promised concession. “I can conclude from this that they too are interested in the implementation of this program,” he said.
As part of the landmark deal with the opposition, the authorities in Yerevan will also introduce electronic verification of voters’ identity and post-election publication of signed voter lists. These measures are meant to prevent multiple voting by government loyalists.
The EU as well as the United States have also pledged to finance the purchase of electronic machines that will be used for voter identification. Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) said earlier this month that it will hire 4,000 computer-savvy people to operate them.