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Armenian Opposition Steps Up Push For Voting Reform

Deputy Head of Armenia's Heritage party Ruben Hakobian addresses a conference on electoral reform held by opposition political forces in Yerevan on January 20.
YEREVAN -- The Armenian opposition has pressured the government over a major electoral reform by holding a conference attended by officials from virtually all of the country's major political forces, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Heritage party organized the forum in Yerevan on January 20 to promote the idea of holding the upcoming parliamentary elections only on a party-list basis.

The two parties plan to force a parliament debate on corresponding amendments to the Electoral Code, which were tabled by them earlier this month.

President Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) -- which controls the majority of seats in the National Assembly -- has made it clear it will block their passage.

Senior HHK lawmaker Hovannes Sahakian reaffirmed this stance as he participated in the opposition conference along with senior representatives of the HHK's junior coalition partners, the Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Orinats Yerkir parties.

Sahakian disagreed with opposition assertions that the May elections are more likely to be democratic if all 131 parliament seats are contested under a system of proportional representation.

Armenia's existing electoral legislation reserves only 90 seats for that system. The remaining 41 deputies are elected on an individual basis in nationwide, single-mandate constituencies.

Most speakers at the conference stood by the longstanding opposition view that voters electing individual parliament deputies from single-mandate districts are more vulnerable to government intimidation and vote buying.

They said this is why those districts usually elect wealthy, government-linked candidates.

'Broad-Based Support'

Voicing her opinion at the forum, BHK deputy Naira Zohrabian also backed the proposed voting reform. But she said her party, led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian, has not yet formulated a position on the matter.

Hovannes Markarian, an Orinats Yerkir representative, said his party supports the opposition demand in principle but thinks that a switch to 100 percent proportional voting should be gradual.

Pointing to these statements, Armen Rustamian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, claimed that the ruling HHK is finding itself increasingly isolated on the issue.

"They probably didn't realize that there is broad-based support for this initiative," he told RFE/RL.

The Armenian National Congress (HAK), another major opposition force, announced late on January 19 that it will stage demonstrations in support of the Dashnaktsutyun-Heritage bill during the anticipated parliament debate.

The HAK coordinator, Levon Zurabian, reaffirmed this pledge during the conference.

Read more in Armenian here