Vote 2013: Presidential wannabes decry electoral deposit requirement

Vote 2013: Presidential wannabes decry electoral deposit requirement

Photolure

The requirement of an electoral deposit to stand for president in next month’s election in Armenia has become a real problem for some of the hopefuls, who consider the norm unconstitutional.
Robert Simonyan, Pavlik Sargsyan


As many as seven out of 15 candidates who have submitted documents to the Central Election Commission (CEC) by January 4 have failed to enclose a receipt confirming their payment of 8 million drams (about $20,000) as an electoral deposit, which is a requirement of the current Election Code.

So far, only eight candidates have complied with the norm. They are: leader of the Republican Party of Armenia, incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan, leader of the opposition Heritage Party Raffi Hovannisian, head of the Liberty Party, member of the Armenian National Congress’s parliamentary faction Hrant Bagratyan, former Karabakh Foreign Minister Arman Melikyan, Radio Hay director Andrias Ghukasyan, National Self-Determination Union chairman Paruyr Hayrikyan and specialist in epic studies Vardan Sedrakyan. (Aram Harutyunyan, of the National Accord Party, paid his deposit only on Tuesday after the CEC provided an additional 48 hours for it).

On Tuesday, the CEC held a special meeting inviting the potential candidates, who haven’t paid the deposit, including head of the Armenian National Federation of Combat Karate Taron Abrahamyan, unemployed citizen Robert Aharonyan, European Court of Human Rights lawyer, Prosperous Armenia Party member Ruben Ayvazyan, physicist Mher Hayrapetyan, National Press Club Chairwoman Narine Mkrtchyan, pensioner Pavlik Sargsyan and Kashatagh NGO President Robert Simonyan. (Ayvazyan later announced his withdrawal from the race).

Pensioner Pavlik Sargsyan (no relation to incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan) and unemployed citizen Robert Simonyan told the election body that they were not going to pay the deposit, but insisted that they should be allowed to participate in the presidential election as candidates. They called the provision of the election law unconstitutional.

Both Sargsyan and Simonyan said they could not afford to pay the money due to their social status. According to both of them, the requirement to pay an electoral deposit limits the rights of citizens to be elected and does not correspond to the Constitution, which does not make any reference to an electoral deposit.

However, CEC Chairman Tigran Mukuchyan explained that such a requirement is present in the Election Code and shall be applicable in relation to all candidates.

Under the law, candidates shall receive their deposits back if they manage to clear a five-percent threshold at elections. It is supposed to prevent the nominations of people who do not enjoy a fair amount of recognition or support among the public at large. In the past, the collection of signatures in support of nominations was used as such a barrier.

It was not immediately clear whether the two candidates protesting the provision of the law as unconstitutional were going to take the matter to the Constitutional Court.

The CEC again decided to give the candidates another 48 hours to comply with the requirement. The process of official registration of candidates is due to be completed in Armenia on January 14.

National Press Club Chairwoman Narine Mkrtchyan, the only woman to potentially participate in the race, told ArmeniaNow, meanwhile, that she was trying to find the necessary amount of money for her electoral deposit. She said, however, that she considered it wrong to demand such a deposit.

“The mechanism of electoral deposits is gradually being abolished elsewhere in the world, but in a poor country like Armenia it is still being applied. This is an instance of discrimination, this requirement of proof of solvency is meaningless,” said Mkrtchyan.

Specialist in epic studies Vardan Sedrakyan, despite having paid the electoral deposit, believes that it is an artificial barrier that does not promote democracy in the country.

“Not only this electoral deposit, but also prices for political advertisements are planned artificially so as to ensure that only representatives of the elites are able to participate in the elections, that is state officials or businessmen who are immediately linked to the authorities,” Sedrakyan told ArmeniaNow.

Political analyst Levon Shirinyan also thinks that the availability of an electoral deposit does not ensure equal rights to all citizens in Armenia where social polarization is still very strong.

“An ordinary citizen cannot get to the elite controlling Armenia. This electoral deposit should rather be a symbolic sum of money, otherwise it becomes a tool that ensures the reproduction of the elites,” said the analyst.

CEC Chairman Mukuchyan, however, considers the payment of electoral deposits a normal electoral practice and thinks that the size of the electoral deposit is acceptable for a country like Armenia. The presence of such a deposit is believed to be a huge deterrent to all sorts of phony candidates whose presence in the race could turn the electoral process into a travesty.