Will discussion of the Electoral Code of Armenia turn into bargaining?

Susanna Petrosyan, Yerevan. Exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
Will discussion of the Electoral Code of Armenia turn into bargaining?

On April 2nd a draft of the new Electoral Code (EC), which has been approved by the government, will be presented to the parliament. The draft was developed, according to the constitutional changes which were adopted in the referendum in December 2015. It requires a rejection of a majority electoral system and a shift to a proportional election system. The draft is much tougher than the current EC. The opposition is dissatisfied that the authorities have ignored its demands. The opposition factions of the Armenian National Congress (ANC), Heritage and Orinants Erkir put forward the following demands: publishing the names of citizens who participated in the voting; cleaning outsize lists of voters to avoid double voting; using marking of fingers during the voting day; conducting video recording in electoral districts. According to the opposition, fulfillment of these conditions will provide a mechanism of control over falsification.

The authorities speak about readiness for an open dialogue with the opposition and NGOs, but in fact they create a lot of barriers.

Thus, instead of publishing lists of those people who have voted, it is suggested to hold registration of voters in an electronic system. However, obviously, the electronic system doesn’t solve the problem of falsification.

The authorities believe that publishing of the lists will be a violation of the secrecy of voting, i.e. a violation of human rights. However, registration in the lists means only the fact that a citizen has got a ballot paper.

The authorities are trying to manipulate with the notion of ‘the secrecy of a vote.’ However, it doesn’t correlate with registration in lists of citizens who have attended the elections.

Another argument of the authorities is a reference to a decision of the Constitutional Court of Armenia on a violation of principles of confidentiality during publication of the lists of those who have voted. However, the CC has never made a decision which forbids publishing the lists.

The intensified conflict between the authorities and the opposition is explained by the fact that the project determines the future configuration of the political sphere. The format of the EC will influence both the prospect of the opposition to get into the future parliament and the ability of the authorities to reach their precious goal – to form the majority in the National Assembly. “The main goal of the real author of the project, Serzh Sargsyan, is to form a stable political majority. If the EC is adopted in the current form, we can say firmly that the ruling Republican Party of Armenia will hold more ‘free’ and ‘fair’ elections,” Artur Sakunts, a human rights activist, thinks.

Meanwhile, along with the authorities and the opposition, there is a third player in the process – European institutions, whose representatives have many times urged the Armenian authorities to reach consensus with the opposition on the draft of the new EC. The Venice Commission hasn’t assessed the EC draft yet. The OSCE/ODIHR heavily criticized the process of organization of the elections, including the election campaign, the voting say, counting votes, and mechanisms of appealing the results of the referendum, in its final report on the referendum on December 6th. The report was supported by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini.

All these facts create an unfavorable atmosphere for the ruling elite, which is ignoring the opposition, especially in the context of issues which are connected with the used mechanisms of power reproduction.

It was probably a result of the pressure by the European organization that the authorities suddenly approved the opposition’s idea to discuss the EC draft in the format ‘4+4+4’ (4 representatives of the authorities, including the RPA and Dashnaktsutyun, one representative from each opposition faction – the ANC, The Heritage, Orinants Erkir, and Prosperous Armenia, as well as 4 representatives from nongovernmental organizations).

“Our goal is to create a political process which will provide such a powerful pressure under which the authorities will have to adopt our suggestions. However, there are no guarantees that the authorities will consider our demands. We will succeed only if we create a united platform, gain the support of society, civil society, and international organizations,” the head of the ANC faction, Levon Zurabyan, stated.

However, the factor of the united platform is prevented by the philosophy of the authorities. We cannot rule out that some tough provisions of the new EC have been developed on purpose, because if the provisions are taken away from the draft due to the demand of the opposition or NGOs, the ruling RPA will create visibility of a consensus and an opportunity for a compromise with its opponents. The authorities have set a high bar, i.e. they have fixed bargaining. As a result of the bargaining, it may make some concessions, but it won’t cross the line which defines the rules of the game during the election processes. I mean the authorities will do their best not to fulfill the opposition’s demands, which are directed at ruining the falsification machine.

According to experts, provisions which could be agreed on will touch on the fact that no more than 8 local observers and media representatives can be present at each ballot station and the fact that not only international, but also local organizations can participate in the elections only after an invitation from the president, the prime minister, the head of the National Assembly or the Central Electoral Commission.

The question is what tactics will win – systemic pressure on the authorities by the opposition and civil society or the authorities’ bargaining.