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Armenian Opposition Pushes For Big Change In Voting System

Opposition leader Armen Rustamian said the single-mandate system gives the ruling party an "unfair advantage from the beginning."
Opposition leader Armen Rustamian said the single-mandate system gives the ruling party an "unfair advantage from the beginning."
YEREVAN -- Armenia's leading opposition forces have urged the government to hold upcoming parliamentary elections solely on a party-list basis in order to make it more difficult to rig votes, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

In a rare display of unity, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun) and the Heritage party advocated the abolition of elections held in single-seat constituencies in a joint statement issued on December 28.

The Armenian National Congress (HAK), another major opposition group, also supported the demand.

But President Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party (HHK), which has a solid majority in the current parliament, rejected the idea.

Armenia's current electoral legislation distributes 90 of the 131 seats in the National Assembly under the system of proportional representation. The remaining 41 deputies are elected on an individual basis.

The opposition has long demanded that proportional representation be extended to the entire assembly, saying that it carries more safeguards against electoral fraud. Opposition leaders say voters electing individual legislators in their districts are more vulnerable to government intimidation and vote buying.

They say this is why opposition candidates rarely win in the single-mandate districts. The vast majority of those seats are currently held by wealthy and government-connected individuals.

The statement by the Dashnaktsutiun and Heritage parties said that the Armenian authorities would demonstrate the seriousness of their pledges to ensure the proper conduct of the May elections if they accepted the opposition's demand.

Armen Rustamian, a Dashnaktsutiun leader, warned on December 28 that rejection of the demand would mean that the authorities were keen to ensure their "reproduction" through vote manipulation.

"The single-mandate system gives the authorities an unfair advantage from the beginning," he said.

The HAK, which has an uneasy relationship with both of those opposition parties, welcomed their initiative as an "important and necessary step toward ensuring the legitimacy and transparency of the elections."

"The [HAK] is ready to cooperate on this issue with all political forces," it said in a statement.

Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker and the spokesman for the ruling HHK, dismissed the opposition arguments and insisted that the single-mandate districts were particularly important for voters living outside Yerevan.

He told RFE/RL that most Armenian parties had few members and political structures outside of the capital.

Naira Zohrabian, a representative of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a junior partner in the governing coalition, said the BHK supported the opposition demand in principle but believed that the switch to a 100 percent party-list system should be gradual.

Earlier this month, the HHK also rejected other antifraud safeguards demanded by the opposition. It said the Sarkisian administration was wholly committed to holding democratic elections.

Read more in Armenian here

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