Parliament to Debate Sweeping Election Reform

The Armenian parliament will begin debates on Tuesday concerning far-reaching changes in electoral legislation which–if approved–will significantly boost the role of parties–versus independent candidates in parliamentary elections and in the country’s political life in general.

Virtually all parties represented in the National Assembly will make a concerted attempt to substantially increase the number of parliament seats allocated under the system between its two member parties came to a head. However–its collapse was prevented by a subsequent compromise deal struck by the two. The agreement on Sahakian’s appointment is another sign of the improving relations. Markarian’s government needs the support of over two-dozen law-makers affiliated with the people’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) to push its initiatives through the parliament.

Parliamentary parties most of which have fared poorly under the single-mandate system argue that the proposed amendmen’s in the Armenian election code would spur the process of democratization by making vote manipulation more difficult. They are expected to face fierce resistance from dozens of non-partisan deputies mostly united in two groups–Hayastan and Kayunutyun.

One of the authors of the bill–Orinats Yerkir party leader Artur Baghdassarian admitted that it will be difficult to push it through the assembly. But he said the strong support given to the initiative by Kocharian puts the parties in a "very favorable position."The positive attitude of the president is extremely important," Baghdassarian told RFE/RL. Kocharian argued earlier this month that a legislature dominated by parties – as opposed to individuals with no clear-cut political affiliation – would help Armenia avoid "absurdities" during the government’s formation and activities.

The timing of the remarks fueled speculations about the imminent dissolution of the parliament and fresh elections. But according to Baghdassarian–Kocharian has ruled out such an option. A common argument in support of proportional representation is that the currently dominant first-past-the-post system allows local bosses–often with dubious pasts–to beat their rivals by relying on extensive quasi-mafia networks and bribing impoverished voters. Many of them are known for their notorious nicknames.

However–Rouben Gevorkian–an outspoken member of Hayastan group argued that Armenian parties are still too weak to be entrusted with governing the country single-handedly. He said–" I am not speaking against [the bill] because I have the nickname ‘Tsaghik (flower) Roubo’. That’s my literary pseudonym–and I am proud of it."

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