Election Law Debates Begin As Opposition Unites for Crucial Fight

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The long-awaited debates got underway in the Armenian parliament on Monday on new electoral legislation which will to a large extent affect the outcome of parliamentary elections due next summer.

The debates–facing Armenia’s virtually entire political spectrum on one side and the largest Yerkrapah group in parliament on the other–largely centers on the crucial issue of how to elect the next National Assembly.

The so-called "unified" draft law–put forward by a broad coalition of diverse political groups–ranging from diehard Communists to the Armenian National Movement–gives preference to the system of proportional representation. But the Yerkrapah bill says at least 60 percent of 131 seats in the future parliament should be allocated in single-mandate constituencies.

Monday’s session began with the introduction by Eduard Yegorian–the leader of the center-right Hayrenik (Fatherland) group–of the "unified" draft–which is backed by at least 53 out of 190 deputies. Yegorian said the draft favoring party lists carries greater legitimacy by virtue of an unprecedented strong multi-party support it enjoys.

Given the existing parliament regulations–the debates are expected to drag on for weeks before a final voting on the law. Observers agree that odds favor the majoritarian election system backed by 78-strong Yerkrapah. Reports also say President Robert Kocharian is set to side with Yerkrapah–whom he recently called the government’s "support base" in parliament.

The Yerkrapah group represents the interests of the wider Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans–led by the powerful Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan.

The controversial issue is causing cracks in a loose coalition of parties that backed Kocharian during the presidential election last March. Yerkrapah is increasingly at odds on the issue with other pro-Kocharian groups–including the influential Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

Although the ARF has not subscribed to the "unified" draft law–it is a strong advocate of proportional representation.

Supporters of proportional representation say the system provides for safeguards against vote rigging–which has reportedly marred all elections held in Armenia’since 1995. But Yerkrapah-led critics of that system argue that political parties are not developed enough in Armenia to play the dominant role in legislative polls.

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