World News

Armenian parliament votes down changes to electoral code

YEREVAN (Reuters) - The Armenian parliament on Monday voted down changes to the country’s electoral code ahead of an early election expected to be held in December.

The changes were proposed by the government led by former opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan, who was put in power by a parliamentary vote in May after weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism.

Pashinyan resigned from his post last week in order for parliament to be dissolved and an early election held. He has said the composition of parliament does not reflect the country’s new political reality and changes to the electoral code were necessary for the vote to be more democratic and fair.

The amendments needed 63 votes to pass, but received only 56 as many lawmakers from the former ruling Republican Party did not support the draft.

“The parliamentary majority and its supporters are doing their best to conduct a sabotage policy ... hoping to turn these election into a revenge tool,” Pashinyan, who is now acting prime minister, said.

“Even if the elections are held according to the old electoral code, if won’t change anything as people’s victory is inevitable,” he said.

Proposed amendments included conducting the vote only by party lists, the abolition of restrictions on the number of participants in coalitions formed after the first round, the reduction of the electoral thresholds to four percent from five percent for parties and to six percent from seven percent for blocks, the reduction of deadlines for the accreditation of observers and journalists and guarantees to ensure a free vote by the military.

The amendments were mostly welcomed by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.

Early parliamentary elections can be called in the ex-Soviet republic of three million people if parliament fails twice to choose a new prime minister and the legislature is dissolved.

Public support for parties not affiliated with Pashinyan is very low - not only for the former ruling Republican party but also others including Prosperous Armenia and Dashnaktsutyun.

The My Step Alliance, which includes Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party, won 81 percent of the mayoral vote in the capital Yerevan last month.

Pashinyan, whose popularity rating is high, said earlier this month he wanted parliamentary elections to be held in the first half of December.

Reporting by Hasmik Mkrtchyan; writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Toby Chopra