Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian accused Armenia’s outgoing parliament of “sabotage” on Monday after it voted down major amendments to the Electoral Code drafted by his government for snap general elections expected in December.
The amendments formally approved by the government on October 16 are aimed at facilitating the proper conduct of the elections. They would, among other things, change the existing legal mechanism for distributing seats in the National Assembly which many believe favored Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) in the last parliamentary elections held in April 2017.
Under Armenia’s constitution, any amendment to the Electoral Code must be backed by at least 63 members of the 105-member parliament. Only 56 lawmakers voted for the government bill.
Pashinian was quick to accuse the parliament majority of “sabotaging” the work of his cabinet. “They hope that in this way they will manage to turn the fresh parliamentary elections into an instrument for revanche,” he said. “But I want to make clear that even if the elections are held under the existing Electoral Code that will not change anything because the victory of the people is inevitable and cannot be stolen by anyone.”
“There will be no return to the past,” Pashinian added, urging supporters to get ready for “completing regime change” in Armenia.
The bill was essentially blocked by the HHK, which still has the largest parliamentary faction.
The former ruling party officially voiced its opposition to the proposed changes in a statement released earlier in the day. It said that they were submitted to the parliament at a very short notice and that the lawmakers therefore did not have enough time to look into them.
The HHK also accused the government of ignoring a number of alternative proposals that were jointly made by the four political forces represented in the current National Assembly.
The HHK’s stance was denounced by other parliamentary forces. Naira Zohrabian, a top representative of Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), called it an act of “political sabotage.”
The HHK’s deputy chairman, Armen Ashotian, remained unrepentant, however, saying that the electoral system must not be changed less than two months before the anticipated elections. “It is simply absurd to build democracy in the country with undemocratic methods,” Ashotian told reporters.
In the 2017 elections, Armenians voted for not only parties and blocs as a whole but also their individual candidates running in a dozen nationwide constituencies. The individual races greatly helped the HHK to score a landslide victory at the time. Wealthy HHK candidates relied heavily on their financial resources and government connections to earn both themselves and their party many votes.
The bill put forward by Pashinian’s government also envisages safeguards against vote rigging and other major changes such as a lower vote threshold for winning seats in the parliament.
Gianni Buquicchio, the president of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, said on Friday that the draft amendments “pursue legitimate aims and seem mostly positive.” In a statement, he also noted “the specific situation in Armenia, which requires the holding of early elections.”
Buquicchio said at the same time that the commission still has “reservations” about the proposed change of the electoral system. He stressed, though, that “these reservations are less relevant if there is consensus among political forces about the change.”
The government is allowed to reintroduce the bill to the parliament and force another urgent debate on it in the coming days. Pashinian did not say whether the government will do so.