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European Institutions ‘Broadly Welcome’ Armenia’s Proposed Electoral Reform

(April 28, 2021)



On April 21, 2020, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and OSCE/ODIHR published their Draft Joint Urgent Opinion on an electoral reform legislative package that is expected to pass ahead of the announced early parliamentary election.

It has been a busy Bill C-894 makes wide changes to the Electoral Code, as well as to associated sections of the Criminal Code, Code on Administrative Offenses, the Labour Code, and the Law on Public Service.

The review is a voluntary process, which the Armenian government officially requested on March 4, 2021, in order to engage international expertise. Many of the changes derive from past recommendations made by VC/ODIHR, reflecting international best practices that had been left out of previous iterations of the law.

Understanding the Urgency of Eliminating District Seats

While it is best practice for election regulations to not be changed within the year immediately before an election, the Joint Urgent Opinion comments on the fact that district seats were removed in a bill that passed on April 1, 2021, noting that it followed many years of consultation on the issue and that the change “does not seem to have a major impact either on the capacity of the electoral administration to organize such elections, or on the understanding of the procedures by the voters.” Though the President refused to sign the law, he did not question its constitutionality. After a 21-day period, it was signed by the Speaker of the National Assembly and is now in effect, meaning that it would apply to the election expected to take place on June 20, 2021.

Facilitating Coalition-Building

If no single party receives a majority of the seats at the conclusion of the first round of the election, a short period of time is allotted for parties to come together to form a governing coalition, together controlling a majority of the seats. The proposed changes would extend this period from 6 to 14 days. Although it is still considered short by international standards, the Constitution would need to be amended to extend it further. Constitutional amendments have been out of the scope of the electoral reform effort at this time.

Also, previously, a maximum of only three parties could come together to form a coalition. Following a previous VC/ODIHR recommendation, this limit has been removed to allow governing coalitions of four or more parties, reducing the likelihood that a second-round election will be held to establish a governing majority.

Fine-Tuning the Minimum Electoral Threshold

Currently, the minimum electoral threshold to receive seats in Parliament is 5% for political parties and 7% for electoral alliances of multiple political parties. Bill C-894 would reduce the former figure from 5% to 4%, which was welcomed in the Joint Urgent Opinion as “a step towards a more pluralistic composition of the parliament”. This change was first proposed in 2018.

However, the threshold for electoral alliances was a different story. If multiple political parties contest the election with a single combined candidate list (note that a pre-election electoral alliance is different from a post-election governing coalition), they are treated differently than political parties presenting their own individual list. In 2018, it was recommended that the threshold also be lowered, from 7% to 6%. Bill C-894 departs from that position and instead raises it. For electoral alliances of two political parties, it would be raised to 8%; if the electoral alliance consists of three parties, it would be 9%; and if it is four or more parties coming together, it would be 10%. The VC/ODIHR reiterated a previous recommendation that thresholds for individual parties and electoral alliances be harmonized to the same number.

The Joint Urgent Opinion stated that the reason for the increase was not clear. Discussions on the topic among the Parliamentary Working Group on Electoral Reform pointed to creating an incentive for political parties to permanently consolidate and become more institutionalized, instead of maintaining loose temporary associations only around election time.

An additional provision in Bill C-894 would lower the threshold to 2% in the event that the initial calculation would give one party two thirds of the seats. If this provision had been in place for the December 2018 election, three additional political parties would have been represented in parliament. The Joint Urgent Opinion recommended simplifying the legal language for this addition. The way it had been drafted included several layers of conditionality for the provision to be triggered.

Less Bonus Seats

Though nominally proportional, Armenia’s electoral system actually diverges from a proportional allocation of seats in

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