YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—President Armen Sarkissian has refused to validate major amendments to Armenia’s Electoral Code which some opposition parties say are aimed at helping Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan win snap parliamentary elections expected in June.
The government-backed amendments passed by the National Assembly early this month changed the legal mechanism for electing the country’s next parliament.
Armenians have until now voted for not only parties and blocs but also their individual candidates running in nationwide constituencies. In the last two general elections, parliament seats were equally distributed among candidates picked through national party lists and individual races.
The amendments backed only by lawmakers representing Pashinyan’s My Step bloc mean that the forthcoming elections will held only on a party list basis.
One of the two parliamentary opposition parties, Bright Armenia, denounced the changes to the electoral system as partisan gerrymandering. The other opposition force, Prosperous Armenia, did not publicly back or oppose them.
Sarkissian announced at the weekend that he will not sign the controversial bill into law, saying that it was passed hastily and without proper debate.
“The Venice Commission [of the Council of Europe] believes that changes to electoral legislation must be enacted at least one year before an election,” Sarkissian’s office said in a statement.
The statement also questioned the wisdom of scrapping individual races in the constituencies, arguing that Armenia still lacks an “established parliamentary political culture” and political parties with “clear programs.”
At the same time Sarkissian decided not to challenge the legality of the bill in the Constitutional Courts. This means, that the parliament’s pro-government speaker, Ararat Mirzoyan, can sign it into law later this month.
A senior My Step lawmaker, Hamazasp Danielyan, criticized the president’s stance on Monday.
“A quick validation of this very concrete change would have allowed us to carry out the electoral reform ahead of the elections with fewer shocks,” Danielyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “Unfortunately, the president opted for a different path for some reason.”
Pashinyan effectively reaffirmed plans to hold the snap elections in late June when he visited Armenia’s southeastern Vayots Dzor province on Saturday.
Under the Armenian constitution, such polls will have to be held within two months if the prime minister resigns and the National Assembly twice fails to elect another premier. The Prosperous Armenia Party and the Bright Armenian Party leaders are understood to have assured Pashinyan last month that their parties will not nominate prime-ministerial candidates in the event of his tactical resignation.