For the sake of consensus
The Electoral Code, that was discussed for months, causing fierce debates and statements, has become a fait accompli. The National Assembly passed it in late October. Both, the authorities and the opposition, termed the consensus that had been reached as ‘historical’.
Armenian political field was working on reformation of the Electoral Code of Armenia since March 2016. The work was carried out in a ‘4 + 4 + 4′ format, involving four representatives from the government, the opposition and the civil society. The need for implementing reforms was prompted by the constitutional amendments, adopted based on the results of the referendum.
The opposition had put forward and the government partially or fully met those requirements of the opposition that it considered reasonable and appropriate.
The adoption of the Electoral Code was crucial not only for the Armenian domestic political field, but also for the number of European institutions, in particular: the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR).
European experts hailed the amendments and novelties, introduced to the draft code. Namely, they remarked on the clause that provides for ‘publication of signed voters’ lists’. In the Venice Commission’s opinion, it was a violation of person’s right to confidentiality of personal data. In this regard, the Europeans called for revision of the aforesaid provision.
However, for the sake of reaching a historical consensus with the opposition, the authorities ‘turned a deaf ear’ to the Europeans’ calls and the signed voters’ lists were made public after the ballot.
Vahram Mkrtchyan, a member of the Republican Party of Armenia, was against publication of the voters’ lists from the very beginning and he stated about that on the number of occasions:
“Yes, in fact, it is considered to be part of the secrecy of voting. It’s insignificant now, whether it’s the Venice Commission or any other structure talking about it. The important thing is that participation or non-participation is also a secret, since it’s a person’s decision whether he wants to announce it or not. I wouldn’t have viewed it as a problem, if it had been enshrined in the law as an obligation. However, today, as a result of political agreements, we have reconciled that the lists should be published.
The Venice Commission’s statements are of recommendatory nature and I see no obstacles here, if we publish the lists as a result of political consensus. I welcome our political will, we managed to come to an agreement despite the Venice Commission’s negative opinion. The opposition has been long focusing on this issue and if it’s so important to the opposition, then we are going to give them this provision. Though, I believe, the elections will be conducted in a very fair and transparent manner even without it.
It’s due to the active political dialogue and great efforts, rather than the authorities’ good will, that the lists will be made public- believes Nair Zograbyan, the leader of the Prosperous Armenia party:
“It’s not that they have committed an unprecedented heroic act and adopted this provision despite the Venice Commission’s opinion. No. Personally I talked to the Commission experts in Strasbourg and, having maintained their already stated position with regard to the voters’ lists, in the global sense, the Commission members have no objections against enshrining in the Electoral Code the provision on voters’ lists.
They have formulated it as follows: “We don’t welcome it, but if this necessity is prompted and suggested by your electoral culture, then we have no objections. So, I’m sure, this issue couldn’t cause any problems during some elections, because everyone, in particular, the OSCE/ODIHR, have pretty good understanding of the intricacies of the Armenian elections.
We could have an ideal Electoral Code, but if there is no corresponding political will on part of the authorities, they will again do everything possible to ensure reproduction of their own one.
Civil society’s stance
Eriknaz Tigranyan, a consultant at Transparency International anti-corruption center and representative of the civil society, who didn’t participate in the ‘4+4+4′ format discussions, believes that the provision on publication of signed voters’ lists gave rise to many questions, rather than became an occasion for rejoicing and celebration. As she pointed out, first they felt euphoric about the fact that the government met the opposition halfway, but then the question arose: why had they disregarded the opinion of the influential structure?
“There was no doubt that the authorities had another move up their sleep instead of publication of the voters’ lists. And it turned out that it was criminalization of voting for others, and we unambiguously opposed it. If false reports on the cases of voting for others are criminalized, no one will dare reporting such cases or will be very cautious.
In the expert’s opinion, the provision on publication of voters’ lists was adopted out of bare necessity, rather than based on positive experience. And if the European countries may regard publication of the signed voters’ lists as irrational for ensuring the election process, for Armenia it’s the only means through which the election results will become controllable. To put it short, the priority for the state are the elections, rather than the citizens and voters’ interests.
Vigen Hakobyan, a political analyst, believes that unlike Europe, which views publication of the signed voters’ lists as certain control over whether a person participated in ballot or not, in Armenia it has an absolutely different effect:
“I think, it’s a useful tool. Publication of the voters’ lists was a topical issue, especially in the past 10 years. It has always been a pressing issue, but the authorities have always rejected it, referring to certain international structures’ approach. If we had been in Switzerland, we could have taken into account all those nuances that the Venice Commission is pointing to. However, I believe that at this stage, our priority is to ensure transparency of the electoral processes, so that we could build confidence towards them.