Armenia: simulation of fulfillment of international obligations is failing
The process of adoption of the new Electoral Code (EC), prepared in accordance with the constitutional changes, formally ended on May 25 when the Armenian parliament passed the draft of the new Electoral Code in the third and final reading. However, certain events don't allow this process to be considered completed and don't exclude the fact that discussions over the EC can be continued in the future.
First of all, we are talking about the statement of the co-rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Alan Meale and Giuseppe Galati. The statement, drawn up on the basis of their visit to Yerevan on May 11-12, expressed concern over the EC provisions, which prohibits a coalition consisting of more than three parties from forming a government after the first round of elections. Meale and Galati called on the ruling majority to consider the possibility of removing the restrictions on the formation of coalitions. They also called on the political forces to continue discussions on the new EC. It should be noted that international organizations, especially the Council of Europe in the form of the Venice Commission and the OSCE ODIHR, pointed out the need for a new EC on the basis of consensus between the political forces.
Meanwhile, more than a month ago, representatives of the Armenian National Congress opposition party (ANC) and a number of NGOs which participated in the discussion of the EC draft in the 4+4+4 format, said that the negotiations around the project were abortive. The ANC and NGO representatives suspended their participation in the discussion of the document until there is consensus. According to a Helsinki Citizens' Assembly member, Vardine Grigoryan, the authorities have promoted the EC project during the work, strongly hindering the implementation of the opposition's conditions.
The representatives of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, in their turn, referring to the results of the vote in the first and second reading, have repeatedly pointed to the achievement of consensus on the issue.
The position of the co-rapporteurs put the RPA in a difficult situation: on the one hand, the ruling elite has done everything necessary to push the bill. But Armenia has certain international obligations, the violation of which could negatively affect Armenia's position.
Perhaps this duality of the situation forced the Armenian authorities to recognize the lack of consensus. The head of the Armenian government staff, David Harutiunyan, was forced to admit that consensus around the new Electoral Code is not yet formed. He did not rule out that discussion of the EC can be continued: "If we manage to find mutually acceptable mechanisms that will further improve the Electoral Code, we will be ready to convene an extraordinary session for making changes to the Electoral Code." Recall that President Serzh Sargsyan has not yet signed the new EC draft adopted by the parliament.
It is also important that for the first time in many years the traditional mechanism, which consists of Armenia's simulation of fulfillment of commitments to the European institutions and prompt passage of the desired bill, has failed. The formula that has always worked until now — to confront everyone with an accomplished fact through the promotion of a law in the parliament — has lost its effectiveness.
In this context, the question becomes relevant of whether the ruling elite will be able to continue maneuvering during fulfillment of their obligations to PACE, the European Union and other organizations, or whether it will have to take some real steps. The integrity and consistency of the European organizations, which are putting considerable pressure on the Armenian government today, are becoming increasingly important here. This pressure is evident in the critical report of the OSCE ODIHR observers on the referendum on the constitutional amendments, which was held on December 6, 2015, on the insistent recommendations of the Venice Commission and other organizations on the mandatory provision of a consensus on the new EC.
"Until all the participants in the 4+4+4 format sign an agreement on the Electoral Code, no one in the world — neither the EU, nor the United States, nor the ODIHR OSCE, nor the PACE, nor the UN, nor the Venice Commission — recognizes the consensus between the political forces. If someone thinks that the authorities will deceive everyone by simulating one more time, they are wrong," the head of the ANC faction Levon Zurabyan said.
At the moment, it is difficult to predict the future behavior of the authorities. Perhaps these international organizations will understand that it is impossible to simulate electoral processes constantly.
And secondly, it is possible that for whatever reasons the West is no longer satisfied with the Armenian authorities. Recall the example of Georgia, there were constitutional changes in Georgia in 2010, providing for the country's transition from a presidential-parliamentary system of government to a parliamentary system. Saakashvili hoped that the ruling United National Movement party could win the parliamentary elections in 2012, which, however, did not happen. The UNM led by the president was defeated by the newly-created Georgian Dream political coalition.
It is possible that these two factors are somehow correlated with each other.