YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—The National Assembly approved on Thursday 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 in the first reading 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 by only pro-government lawmakers mean that the forthcoming elections will held only on a party list basis.
Pashinyan announced last week his administration’s decision to switch the electoral system to a fully proportional one. He claimed that none of the two opposition parties represented in the current parliament objects to that.
However, one of those parties, Bright Armenia Party, spoke out against changing the electoral system.
Bright Armenia Party leader Edmon Marukyan accused Pashinyan and the ruling My Step bloc of resorting to partisan gerrymandering when he spoke during a short parliament debate on the proposed amendments. He said the authorities must not hastily change the “rules of the game” less than three months before the anticipated elections.
“I am officially declaring that from now on the legitimacy of the elections is in doubt,” Marukyan said. “With your new Electoral Code you are digging your political grave. This will be your end.”
Marukyan also said that earlier this year the parliament’s pro-government majority drafted different amendments to the Electoral Code and sent them to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission for examination. “You have fooled the Venice Commission,” he charged.
Ruben Rubinyan, a senior My Step lawmaker, rejected the criticism. “Yes, the rules of the game are being changed right before the elections, but they are being liberalized,” he said.
Rubinyan argued that Marukyan himself advocated the abolition of individual constituencies as recently as in 2018.
The other parliamentary opposition party, Prosperous Armenia, has not publicly backed or opposed the amendments. Its deputies did not take part in Thursday’s debate and ensuing vote.