Electoral reform in Armenia: Always room for improvement
In this recently published Policy Alert, expert Tigran Mughnetsian sheds light on the draft bill on amendments to the electoral code and provides recommendations for improvements.
The Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with the Central Electoral Commission of Armenia, has proposed amendments to the electoral code and other legal acts to enhance existing regulations. These reforms address various aspects such as election conduct during a state of emergency, internal restructuring of the CEC, gender quota protection, and revisions to party and campaign funding, but the bill is still pending parliamentary approval before it can be implemented.
Key amendments and concerns:
- Suffrage Principles: Two new principles, "Fair Elections" and "Genuine Elections," aim to reinforce existing suffrage principles. Concerns have been raised by civil society organizations and international stakeholders, suggesting potential overlap with existing commitments.
- Elections during Emergencies: Addressing crises since 2020, the amendments outline procedures for terminating elections during emergencies, with critics highlighting potential misuse.
- Transparency and Accessibility: Proposals include increased video recording, real-time transmission, and expanded observer rights for enhanced transparency. Measures for voter accessibility, particularly for those with mobility difficulties, are introduced.
- One Document to Vote: Starting January 1, 2025, voters must use only an identification card, aiming to enhance election credibility and reduce the risk of double voting. While this is assessed as a positive step, technical and capacity difficulties to issuing ID cards must be solved before the transition.
- Political Party Oversight and Campaign Funding: Oversight of campaign funds may remain with the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), despite initial plans for a shift to the Corruption Prevention Commission (CPC) who is also in charge of general oversight over political parties. Recommendations opt for a gradual transition from the CEC to the CPC and extension of the deferral period to ensure effective oversight and allow the CPC to build necessary capacities to take on both tasks.
As envisaged in the draft bill, campaign funding would only be allowed for political parties and those who would like to contribute to a campaign must donate directly to political parties and must hold Armenian citizenship. This would prohibit non-Armenian voters who are eligible in participating in local elections from contributing to elections. Citizen observers proposed examining this issue. It is also recommended that only larger contributions should disclose donor data.
- Gender Quota Protection: Proposed amendments seek to leave mandates vacant if no candidates of the underrepresented gender are available which is assessed as a practical solution. However, the draft amendments do not address the other quota requirement during mandate distribution in the electoral code: the 70-30 balance between partisan and non-partisan candidates in party lists.
- Internal Structure of the CEC: Changes to the Central Electoral Commission's internal structure aim to address gender disparity, but concerns arise about potential staff expansion and reduced accountability in staff appointments.
With the above points in mind, there are multiple recommendations that should be considered in the proposed amendments:
- Establish suffrage principles that are both mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. Ensure that these principles can be effectively implemented in practice.
- Review the conditions that lead to the termination of elections by virtue of law during emergencies. Ensure that the challenges faced are proportional to the response provided.
- Grant the authority to determine the impossibility of summarizing elections during emergencies to a democratically elected body, such as parliament, with decisions informed by the opinion of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC).
- Implement a gradual process to bring all polling stations up to international standards, ensuring accessibility for all voters.
- Periodically monitor the issuance of identification cards in preparation for the smooth transition to a single voting document.
- Extend transitional provisions for one or two years to allow the Corruption Prevention Commission (CPC) enough time to build sufficient capacity to effectively oversee both party financing and campaign funding.
- Review and reinstate the right of non-Armenian citizens with voting rights to participate in campaign funding.
- Introduce identification cards as exclusive documents for party and campaign funding to increase transparency and credibility.
- Address and safeguard the 70-30 balance between partisan and non-partisan candidates in party lists using a mechanism similar to that employed to protect the gender quota.
- Restrict the Central Electoral Commission's authority to fill vacant positions on a non-competitive basis and ensure that this practice is not exploited.