December 8, 2012 - 13:06 AMT
Implications of Electoral Code amendments ahead of vote
The idea of involving the Armenian Diaspora in elections is not new; it was first voiced following the adoption of the Law on Dual Citizenship.
Ahead of any elections, Armenia, as well as Israel, countries whose Diaspora is far larger than the population living in the homeland, face debate on the need to involve the Diaspora in the presidential or parliamentary voting. Armenians and Jews living in other countries amount to 2/3 of their total number, with approximately 3 millions of Armenians living in Armenia and about 6 millions of Jews in Israel. These figures make 7 and 14 millions worldwide, respectively. If all of them have the right to vote, the outcome of elections in our countries could be absolutely different and even unpredictable for either the politicians or experts of Armenia and Israel.

According to Dr. Alexander Tsinker, chairman of the Center for Electoral Systems (ICES), both Armenian and Jewish Diasporas are quite heterogeneous, and often pursue goals different from those of their mother country. “The Armenian Diaspora mostly adheres to right-wing convictions; most of its representatives believe that radical measures should be taken to settle Nagorno Karabakh conflict and unite the lost historical lands, while the Jewish one (with the exception of the Russian-speaking Jews of Diaspora)” rather maintains left-winged principles, not quite popular in Israel nowadays.

Another problem is related to citizens of Armenia and Israel who are abroad for different reasons – students, lecturers, workers, businessmen, tourists, etc. This issue needs a serious consideration. Still, this should not be done hastily, just ahead of the elections; this is not productive for the development of democracy,” Tsinker noted.

He also mentioned that the voting day is often scheduled on workdays and not a week-end, and people living in Russia or the U.S. will not have the time to cast a ballot at a polling station situated far away, even in a neighbouring town sometimes.

In fact, the polling stations for Armenian citizens in the U.S. are located at embassies or consulates, and those living, say, in Iowa or Massachusetts will not feel comfortable visiting Washington, New York or Los Angeles to vote. The situation with the Israeli citizens is apparently the same.

Armenian and Jewish lobbies promote relevant interests of their countries in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere, organize annual telethons raising millions of dollars to be targeted to the development of Israel and Armenia; hence, the representatives of these Diasporas are believed to be worth getting the right to vote. “I’m not sure this is an unbiased approach, however, amendments to the Electoral Code should be discussed and even passed not ahead of elections, but in advance, perhaps even after another tenure,” Tsinker underlined.

Basing on the above-said, it is worth mentioning that the idea of participation of the Armenian Diaspora in elections is not new; it was first voiced following the adoption of the Law on Dual Citizenship. Yet the suffrage cannot be viewed apart from other rights and duties of an Armenian citizen, namely the residence in the homeland during at least six months, the duty of tax payment and military service. Without all this, participation in the parliamentary and presidential elections will not be understood by the Armenian citizens.

Karine Ter-Sahakian