Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has accused lawmakers in Armenia's outgoing parliament of "sabotage" after they voted down major amendments to the Electoral Code drafted by his government for snap general elections expected in December.
The parliament on October 22 failed to muster enough votes to pass the amendments, which are aimed at facilitating the conduct of the elections.
As approved by the government on October 16, the legislation 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. It was essentially blocked by the HHK, which has the largest parliamentary faction in the outgoing parliament.
The HHK claimed that the legislation was submitted to the parliament on very short notice and that lawmakers did not have enough time to study it before voting.
Moreover, the HHK’s deputy chairman, Armen Ashotian, has insisted that the electoral system must not be changed less than two months before the elections.
"It is simply absurd to build democracy in the country with undemocratic methods," Ashotian told reporters.
'No Return To The Past'
But Pashinian accused HHK lawmakers 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 revenge," 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 vowed, urging supporters to get ready for "completing regime change" in Armenia.
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.
Naira Zohrabian, a top representative of Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), joined with Pashinian in calling the HHK's vote against the government bill an act of "political sabotage."
But the HHK has 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.
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.
In seeking to change the electoral system, the bill put forward by Pashinian’s government also seeks to establish safeguards against vote rigging and lower the vote threshold for winning seats in the parliament.
Gianni Buquicchio, the president of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, said on October 19 that the draft amendments "pursue legitimate aims and seem mostly positive."
He said that the commission had some "reservations" about the proposed changes, but said that "these reservations are less relevant if there is consensus among political forces about the change."