On 25 March, EPDE hosted a round table discussion with five Armenian and international election experts and representatives of political factions on the ongoing electoral reform in Armenia and its prospects ahead of the early parliamentary elections scheduled on 20 June 2021. 50 participants from the international expert community and donor countries joined the event along with dozens of viewers on Facebook.
Following Prime Minister Pashinyan’s announcement on reaching an agreement with the opposition to hold snap parliamentary elections on 20 June this year, initial concerns arose over what this might mean for the continuation of the electoral reform process. A broad political consensus and a strong public demand for reforms have helped push through some urgent reforms before the snap election campaign. However, some experts raised the question whether a comprehensive reform of electoral legislation some 3 months before election day is in line with international norms and best practices.
The panelists pointed out that the implementation of the reform would be the culmination of a 2-year inclusive consultation process involving all political parties, election administration and civil society experts in which reforms have been proposed aiming to simplify the overly complicated electoral system, to ensure transparency and accountability, and to improve the overall election management procedures. Such an inclusive consultation process was unprecedented in post-soviet Armenia.
Implementing this new legislation ahead of the snap elections in June would not be disruptive to the electoral process, since the provisions to immediately come to force do not aim to add brand new aspects to the legislation which would not be comprehensively discussed before. The experts agreed that the new legislation would solely simplify the existing legislation and would not involve introducing anything that Electoral Management Bodies are unprepared for or unable to implement. The experts emphasized the recent International Republican Institute (IRI) opinion poll results which show that there is a strong demand among the Armenian voters to simplify the current election system. According to the poll, 40% of respondents stated that the electoral system should be reformed, and only 10% of the respondents were extremely or very familiar with how the National Assembly is elected.
Regarding the general recommendations of the Venice Commission to allow sufficient time between changing the election code and holding elections, the experts stated that there is a valid justification for conducting election law reform ahead of the 20 June elections since there is broad agreement between the parties on the content of the reform and the change of the electoral system has been expected by political parties preparing for the next parliamentary elections, whenever these were to be held.
Election experts see the adoption of a proportional electoral system and the introduction of provisions to increase transparency during elections as urgent reforms that should be implemented by the current parliament before the snap elections. The current district seat system provides fertile ground for corrupt practices and misuse of state and business resources. The system previously provided an advantage to the incumbent party and made it very difficult for smaller parties to participate in elections. The introduction of these changes now, while there is momentum for such changes, would be an opportunity to bring new political actors into the political arena, which may help Armenia overcome its current political crisis. Other procedural reforms based on international recommendations can be implemented incrementally after the elections.
Hamazasp Danielyan, Member of the National Assembly, My Step faction
Sona Ayvazyan, Executive Director, Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center Armenia
Vardine Grigoryan, Democratic Institutions Monitoring and Reporting Coordinator, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor
Harout Manougian, EPDE election expert, Yerevan
Jerome Leyraud, Armenia Country Director, International Foundation for Electoral Systems
Adam Busuleanu, EPDE Project manager, Berlin (tbc)
You can watch the full recording of the round table discussion below.