Books on Armenia
Update No: 325 - (19/12/07)
The possibilities of a fair election in February seem to be rapidly diminishing.
The opposition minority in the Armenian parliament proposed on November 4 fresh amendments to the country’s Election Code, saying they would prevent a possible falsification of the coming February 19 presidential election.
The parliament factions of the Orinats Yerkir and Zharangutyun parties said other amendments to the code that were adopted by the National Assembly earlier are too insignificant to complicate vote rigging.
The package of 16 draft amendments jointly circulated by them is primarily directed against multiple voting and vote buying, practices which opposition leaders claim were instrumental in the pro-government parties’ landslide victory in the May parliamentary elections. It includes two specific changes demanded by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian at a recent rally. Those envisage that all ballots for the vote will be printed in a European Union member state and that voters casting them will have their fingers marked by indelible ink.
Ter-Petrosian alleged that the Armenian authorities printed hundreds of thousands of extra ballots ahead of the May elections and bribed tens of thousands of people to vote for pro-government parties in more than one polling station. He urged the international community to pressure the Armenian authorities into enacting these changes.
“The experience of the last elections exposed the numerous ways of ensuring multiple voting by a single person,” said Vartan Khachatrian, a Zharangutyun parliament and co-sponsor of the draft legislation.
The authorities already rejected the idea of inking voters’ fingers a year ago and during the adoption of the most recent changes in the Election Code. They enacted instead a provision requiring election officials to put special stamps in the passports of Armenians going to the polls.
Zharangutyun and Orinats Yerkir are also seeking a stricter ban on vote buying which wealthy pro-government candidates often present as an act of benevolence or “humanitarian assistance” to voters. The Election Code already prohibits provision of any goods or services during election campaigns. But the clause did not prevent some contenders of the May polls, notably the pro-presidential Prosperous Armenia Party, from handing out lavish gifts to local communities and individual voters.
The opposition bill would also place limits on the price of political advertising set by Armenian TV and radio stations. In particular, they would be banned from making election campaign ads more expensive than regular commercials aired by them.
Both opposition parties, who control only 15 seats in the 131-member National Assembly, admitted that their chances of pushing the amendments through the legislature are slim. “We can’t be very hopeful,” Hovannes Markarian of Orinats Yerkir told RFE/RL. “Some of our proposals were already rejected this month.” “In any case, we must give it a try because we are accountable to the public,” said Khachatrian.
Samvel Nikoyan, a senior lawmaker from the governing Republican Party (HHK), made it clear that the opposition bill is unlikely to even reach the parliament floor. “The electoral process has already started,” he told RFE/RL. “It is meaningless and inadmissible to change rules mid-way through the process.”
“They [the opposition minority] are well aware that their proposals will never be debated at the National Assembly,” said Nikoyan.
It is an unhappy fact that another war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is perfectly possible, even likely. Both sides are led by hardliners, indeed ‘enclavistes’, in President Robert Kocharian, formerly leader of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, and President Ilham Aliyev, who hails from Nakichevan, the Azeri enclave between Armenia and Iran.
The aggrieved party, the Azeris, who lost last time, want their territory back, some 20% of their country in all, they claim, leaving aside the enclave,Nagorno Karabakh itself. There are over a million refugees waiting to return to their homes.
The Azeris have the oil revenues to finance an arms build-up, their military budget being larger than Armenia's entire budget. It is not, however, bigger than Russia's, the salient point. Moscow would not leave so faithful a client state in the lurch, should serious hostilities recur.
Kocharian might welcome an emergency
Kocharian is due to step down this year, as is Putin. But he lacks the Russian leader's total dominance of the political scene. He is nothing like as popular. It would not be easy for him to engineer a succession to a boosted premiership, as Putin is doing.
A war with Azerbaijan could suit him down to the ground, justifying a suspension of the constitution and its clause that he cannot run for a third term. Indeed the elections could then be postponed, as they were even in the Mother of Parliaments in the UK in the world wars.
This is pure speculation yet. But Kocharian is an utterly ruthless and brutal man, who waged a ferocious war, with Russian help, last time in 1989-92. The Kremlin to the rescue again maybe his motto before long.