New Election Commission Meets, Elects Chairman

Armenia's newly appointed Central Election Commission (CEC) held its first meeting on Thursday, electing a controversial election official as its chairman.

The official, Garegin Azarian, headed the previous CEC that was disbanded this week in accordance with the recently amended Electoral Code. 

One of the changes made in the code introduced a new mechanism for the formation of the top election body. Its seven members must now be nominated by the state human rights ombudsman, the Court of Cassation and the national bar association and appointed by the president of the republic.

President Serzh Sarkisian formally approved the candidacies proposed by the three institutions late on Wednesday. All of them are believed to be loyal to his administration, a fact that will fuel opposition skepticism about Sarkisian's pledges to ensure the proper conduct of the next national elections.

Azarian's reelection as CEC chairman for a seven-year term will only deepen that skepticism. Azarian administered Armenia's last presidential election that were marred by opposition allegations of serious fraud and ended in deadly street unrest in Yerevan.

Two other newly appointed members of the CEC  ran one of the country's ten electoral districts during that ballot.

The nomination of some of the new CEC members has also sparked controversy. Ombudsman Karen Andreasian pledged to fill the three commission seats reserved for his office on a competitive basis.

It emerged aftewards that two winners of that supposed job contest are former and current employees of a law firm which Andreasian managed before becoming human rights defender early this year. The female nominees, aged 23 and 25, withdrew their candidacies on Monday amid media allegations of favoritism directed at Andreasian.