YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–As parliament debates on a new electoral legislation entered their second day on Tuesday–Armenia’s leading political parties with differing ideologies and sometimes mutually hostile attitudes vehemently defended the principle of proportional representation–in an unprecedented display of accord.
Leaders of the parties represented in the National Assembly called for the passage of their "unified" draft which would reserve 100 out of 131 seats in the next parliament for party lists during elections scheduled for 1999. The second draft–submitted by the parliament’s largest Yerkrapah group–provides for the predominance of the majoritarian system.
That draft has been on the whole endorsed by President Robert Kocharian who argues that parties are not developed enough in Armenia. But deputies from parties including the former ruling Armenian National Movement–opposition National Democratic Union and Communist party and the pro-Kocharian Self-Determination Union all reiterated that proportional representation is a necessary condition for free parliamentary elections in Armenia.
The two drafts also differ over the controversial issue of voting by the military–with the parties proposing strong restrictions on servicemen’s participation in polls. Yerkrapah wants government officials to be present in all election commissions–whereas the parties insist on a fully partisan basis of their formation.
Observers expect that the Yerkrapah bill–supported by at least 78 deputies–will garner more votes in parliament but it is still unclear whether that will be enough for its passage. Some 50 deputies reportedly support elections based on proportional representation.
The current 190-member legislature is controlled by non-partisan deputies with close links to various government bodies. Many of them are allied with Yerkrapah–which is technically not a party but has substantial clout thanks to its leader–the powerful Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan.
Yerkrapah gave its decisive backing to Kocharian during the March presidential election and currently controls most of the provincial administrations in Armenia.
Meanwhile–two opposition deputies–David Vartanian of the NDU and Vigen Khachatrian of the ANM-controlled Hanrapetutyun faction–hinted on Tuesday at a possible multi-party boycott of the 1999 vote should the defense minister’s loyalists push their ideas through. "The boycott option should be kept open," Vartanian warned.
Reports say the sole deputy from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation–a second pillar of President Kocharian’s rule–will vote for the "unified" draft. In stark contrast to Yerkrapah–the ARF said the principle of proportional representation should take precedence.
That system is also supported by the recently established party of Armenia’s long-time Soviet-era leader Karen Demirchian who came second in the March presidential election.