Election Body ‘Not Ready’ For Snap Polls

Armenia’s recently formed Central Election Commission (CEC) said on Friday that it would be physically unable to hold soon fresh elections demanded by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK).

Garegin Azarian, the CEC chairman, argued that it is still in the process of forming district election commissions and has yet to train thousands of lower-level officials who will be tasked with administering elections in polling stations.

“If pre-term elections are called today, the electoral system will not be ready for that,” Azarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “We are still receiving applications for the formation of district election commissions.”

“And we still need to train at least 14,000 candidates for membership in precinct commissions,” he said, adding that scores of local election monitors also have to undergo similar training in accordance with Armenia’s recently amended Electoral Code.

The CEC chief also said that the holding of pre-term presidential or parliamentary elections would require fresh changes in the code. But he refused to comment on the likelihood of such a scenario.

Snap polls are the number one issue on the HAK’s agenda in its ongoing dialogue with President Serzh Sarkisian’s governing coalition. The opposition alliance wants Sarkisian to resign and schedule a presidential ballot for the middle of October.

Coalition leaders have until now rejected the opposition demand. They say the dialogue should therefore focus on ways of ensuring the proper conduct of the next, regular national elections due in 2012 and 2013.

Sarkisian last month pledged to “spare no effort” to make them free and fair. He said the amendments to the Electoral Code enacted by the Armenian authorities in May will complicate vote rigging.

The HAK and other opposition groups dismiss these assurances, however. They argue in particular that CEC and its territorial divisions will continue to be dominated by government loyalists. Opposition leaders are especially critical of Azarian’s appointment as CEC chairman.

Azarian also headed the previous CEC that administered Armenia’s last presidential election held in February 2008. The vote was marred by opposition allegations of serious fraud and deadly street clashes between opposition protesters and security forces.

Levon Zurabian, an HAK leader, said on Friday the fact that Azarian will continue to head the electoral authorities means that the authorities plan to rig the next elections. Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that HAK negotiators will press for his resignation in their talks with government representatives.