Parliament Passes Election Law

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian parliament Friday finally passed a new election law.

The National Assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve in the final third reading the bill drafted by its pro-government Yerkrapah majority and seen as crucial for the outcome of the elections expected in May.

The law’s passage ended months of debate between Yerkrapah and the opposition that largely focused on how to elect Armenia’s next parliament.

Several factions in parliament have insisted that the legislative elections be based on the proportional system arguing that it provides more safeguards against vote-rigging–which has marred elections held in Armenia’since 1995. But the new law allocates 75 out of 131 seats in the future legislature in single-mandate constituencies. Only 56 seats will be reserved for so-called party lists.

Last autumn–Yerkrapah found itself alone in advocating the bill as virtually all Armenia’s other major parties gave their backing for an alternative opposition draft that was eventually defeated in parliament.

The ensued minor concessions by Yerkrapah loyalists failed to win over those parties–including the Armenian Revolutionary Federation–a second influential pro-government group.

The Self-Determination Union–which also supports President Robert Kocharian–has said it will ask him to veto the bill to give more room for proportional representation.

Last week–Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan urged opponents to cooperate with his Republican Party (created on the basis of Yerkrapah) to ensure "the cleanness of the elections." He said the Republicans will assume their "big share of responsibility" for that. The remarks were shrugged off by opposition leaders who claimed that Sargsyan’s record of handling past elections does not bode well for his sincerity.

Also on Friday–the center-right National Democratic Union urged supporters gathered in central Yerevan to be on standby to prevent vote irregularities.

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