(Azatutyun)- The Armenian government moved on Thursday to make it a criminal offense to buy or sell votes in elections held in the country.
Armenia’s existing legislation already bans parties and individual candidates from handing out or promising cash, other material benefits and services to voters during election campaigns. The practice is punishable only by fines.
Draft amendments to the Armenian Criminal Code approved by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s cabinet call for prison sentences for anyone buying or attempting to buy votes.
What is more, they stipulate that Armenians selling their votes will also face imprisonment. But such voters will avoid prosecution if they confess to taking vote bribes within three days after an election, according to the government bill which is expected to be debated by the Armenian parliament next week.
Vote buying was widespread in just about every major election held in Armenia in the last two decades. Former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) was accused by its opponents and media of heavily relying on the practice in the last parliamentary polls held in April 2017.Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that they were marred by “many credible reports” of vote buying.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Pashinian said the bill, if passed by the parliament, will help to significantly improve the conduct of future Armenian elections, including municipal polls in Yerevan slated for September 23.