Pro-government lawmakers spoke out on Wednesday against an opposition proposal to change the existing legal mechanism for electing Armenia’s parliament which critics believe favors the ruling Republican Party (HHK).
The current HHK-controlled parliament was elected last April under a complicated system of proportional representation. Armenians voted not only for parties or blocs but also individual candidates fielded by them in a dozen nationwide constituencies.
The HHK greatly benefited from this system, having nominated many wealthy and government-linked candidates in their de facto fiefdoms across the country. Those individual candidates earned President Serzh Sarkisian’s party many votes owing to their administrative and financial resources. The Armenian opposition and civil society say they were personally involved in widespread vote buying that marred the April 2017 elections.
Businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance, which finished second in the polls, has drafted amendments to Armenia’s Electoral Code which would scrap the individual races, meaning that each party or blocs would only field a single national list of election candidates. The amendments are backed by the Yelk alliance, the other opposition group represented in the National Assembly.
“What happened on April 2  showed that this electoral system needs to be changed,” Naira Zohrabian, a senior lawmaker from the Tsarukian Bloc, said at a meeting of the parliament committee on legal affairs that discussed the proposed change. Zohrabian insisted that vote bribes had a serious influence on the election results.
Most members of the committee, who represent the HHK and its junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), voted against the proposed amendments which are expected to be debated on the parliament floor next month.
Arpine Hovannisian, a deputy parliament speaker affiliated with the HHK, argued that deputies allied to Tsarukian had voted for the current Electoral Code adopted in advance of the last general elections. “We can’t change a decision made through a broad-based political consensus just like that,” said Hovannisian.
Zohrabian countered that their support for the code was the result of an uneasy compromise. She argued that the HHK would have blocked other anti-fraud measures had the parliamentary opposition refused to vote for the controversial electoral system.
Dashnaktsutyun deputies sitting on the panel opposed the Tsarukian Bloc’s bill even though the leadership of their party officially called for the abolition of the individual races just a few weeks ago.