YEREVAN -- An Armenian opposition leader has challenged President Serzh Sarkisian to prove his commitment to hold democratic elections by enacting radical changes to the law and not allowing government resources to be used by his ruling Republican Party (HHK), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Sarkisian has pledged to "spare no effort" to ensure that parliamentary elections in May are widely recognized as free and fair. Visiting Brussels earlier this month, Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian (no relation) said the vote will be the most democratic in the country's history.
In a letter to the president released by his Heritage (Zharangutyun) party on November 21, Raffi Hovannisian listed 15 measures that he said would demonstrate the seriousness of the government's pledges.
In particular, he said, election commissions must be required to ink voters' fingers and publicize lists of citizens who have cast their ballots.
Such safeguards are also strongly advocated by Armenia's other major opposition forces. Opposition leaders say this would preclude multiple voting as well as fraudulent voting on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Armenians who are absent from the country but remain on national vote registers.
Calls To Abolish Single-Mandate Constituencies
The HHK-led, pro-government majority in parliament blocked corresponding amendments to the Election Code drafted by the opposition earlier this year. It has also been against the opposition idea -- also mentioned by Hovannisian -- of abolishing parliamentary elections held in single-mandate constituencies.
The law reserves 41 of the 131 seats in the National Assembly for such constituencies. The remaining deputies are elected on a party-list basis.
The country’s leading opposition forces have long been demanding that the system of proportional representation be extended to the entire parliament, saying that it carries more safeguards against electoral fraud. They say voters electing individual parliamentarians in their districts are more vulnerable to government intimidation and vote buying.
The opposition says this is the reason why opposition candidates rarely win in the single-mandate districts. The vast majority of those seats are now held by wealthy and government-connected individuals.
In his letter, Hovannisian also said Serzh Sarkisian must rule out any use of government funds and properties by the HHK and guarantee that central and local government officials, civil servants, and other public-sector employees will no longer be under pressure to contribute to the ruling party's electoral victory.
He said the authorities should also prevent any "coordinated actions" by the HHK and law-enforcement bodies during the elections and ensure "equal access" to broadcast media by all election contenders.
In addition, added Hovannisian, the heads of state universities, schools, and other educational institutions (many of them HHK members) must be told to end their party affiliations.
There was no immediate reaction to the letter from Serzh Sarkisian's office.
Galust Sahakian, an HHK deputy chairman and senior parliamentarian, dismissed Hovannisian's concerns as a pre-election ploy. He claimed that the HHK has never abused its government levers for electoral purposes.
"That's a ploy they've used for years: to whip the Republicans as long as they can and then see what prospects open up for them," Sahakian told RFE/RL.
Stepan Safarian, a senior Heritage member insisted, however, that Hovannisian simply listed "evident facts that are creating extremely serious challenges related to the freedom and fairness of the upcoming elections."
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