They said that the impending appointment of Vahagn Hovakimian, a senior lawmaker representing the ruling Civil Contract party, would call into question the proper conduct of Armenian elections.
Hovakimian confirmed on Monday that Civil Contract has nominated him for the key post that will become vacant on October 12. He will be almost certainly appointed by the Armenian parliament controlled by Pashinian’s party.
The 17 mostly Western-funded groups said the choice of Hovakimian is “extremely unacceptable” because he is a partisan figure who cannot guarantee the CEC’s “independence and political impartiality.” His appointment “does not contribute to the freedom and fairness of next elections and jeopardizes the main institutional achievement of the 2018 velvet revolution,” they warned in a joint statement.
The statement also argued that Hovakimian has for years coordinated the ruling party’s election campaigns and authored “controversial” bills aimed at cementing its hold on power.
Hovakimian, 48, is a former journalist who worked for Pashinian’s Haykakan Zhamanak daily from 1998 to 2012. Pashinian hired him as a parliamentary assistant after being first elected to the National Assembly in 2012.
“A person who owes his entire career to Nikol Pashinian and Civil Contract cannot be an impartial chairman of the CEC,” said Daniel Ioannisian of the Union of Informed Citizens, one of the statement’s signatories.
“I can’t recall a single episode in Vahagn Hovakimian’s career of the past decade where he worked somewhere independently from Nikol Pashinian,” added Ioannisian, whose nongovernmental organization has long monitored national and local elections.
The ruling party’s spokesman, Vahagn Aleksanian, rejected the criticism. He said that the current Armenian authorities have already demonstrated that they have a “sufficient political will to hold free and fair elections.”
“We are long past the stage of being afraid of criticism, often times inappropriate criticism, and holding back from making important decisions,” Aleksanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
News reports about Hovakimian’s likely appointment as CEC chairman first appeared in July. Opposition leaders expressed serious concern over such a prospect, saying that Pashinian is seeking complete and direct control over electoral process in the country.