BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
March 5 is the official campaign starting date for the Republic of Armenia’s (RoA) April 2nd election, its first held under the new rules embodied in the constitutional amendments adopted in Autumn, 2015. That changed the country’s system of governance from partial-presidential to parliamentary, with a roughly one year overlap of the two systems.
But how will this all work? Especially for those of us living in the U.S. and its (almost) exclusively “first past the post” or “winner take all” systems of elections, understanding the new system may take a bit of effort. In this piece, I attempt to explain the main features of the new way elections will be held and parliament seated. This discussion has nothing to do with how good/valid anyone thinks the new system is or whether it can/will be gamed by the oligarchs who have a stranglehold on the life of the country.
The new parliament (Azcayeen Zhoghov) will have 101 members. They will be elected based on a proportional system. What this means is that citizens cast their votes for political parties or alliances of parties, not individual candidates. The parties prepare lists of their candidates in priority order (these lists must contain 80 to 300 names). Depending on what percentage of the vote a party gets, it will be allocated a certain number of seats in parliament. This number of people, starting at the top of the list, will be seated in parliament on behalf of the party or alliance. So if a party earns 25%, then the first 25 names on its list will become parliamentarians.
After the election, a government must be formed. There is a requirement for what is being called a “stable majority” which is defined as 54% of the seats. So if one party or alliance wins that many seats in parliament, it can proceed on its own. If no party reaches that threshold, then a coalition can be formed to reach it, but this must happen within six days of the announcement of preliminary election results. No more than two parties/alliances can be included in that coalition. If no government is within these time constraints, a new election will be held 28 days after the original election’s date.
This is the basic system. But there are certain additional requirements, constraints, and aspects. There are two sets of lists, national and district (this is detailed below). Parties must secure at least 5% of votes to get any seats in parliament, and alliances, 7%. Four seats in parliament are reserved for representatives of the biggest national minorities: Assyrians, Kurds, Russians, and Yezidis. At least 25% (increasing to 30% in 2021) of candidates on the party/alliance lists must be women. Ultimately, no more than 75% of parliament may be of one gender. Candidates must submit a deposit of 10,000 times the minimum salary, currently 10 million trams/drams (roughly $21,000). The method of filling vacancies is also specified.
Perhaps the most complicated part of the system is that there are two sets of lists, with voters having a say on both. The results then impact which of the people on the party/alliances lists actually get seated. The parties have a list for the whole country, but also lists for each of the 13 districts that have been created. A voter will go to the polls, select which party s/he prefers, and then, if s/he chooses, also indicate which of the people on district list is his/her preference. The local preferences take precedence over the national list in deciding who is actually seated in parliament. These district preferences are a way of increasing voters’ say over that of party apparatuses’.
Let’s hope this new system is implemented properly and produces better results for the RoA with elections that are cleaner than ever before.