Women and parliamentary elections
Published: Saturday May 05, 2007 in Living in Armenia
Parliamentary elections set for May 12, 2007 in Armenia will not likely present a significant increase of women in parliament. Although women's organizations have been lobbying more actively this past year to have a greater representation of women in the National Assembly and some political parties have been showcasing their women candidates on the campaign trail, it is unlikely that the status quo will change.
Of the 131 seats in parliament, 90 seats are assigned to national proportional lists and 41 are majority, single-mandate seats. The overriding majority of the 28 parties which have submitted their proportional lists to the Central Electoral Commission have included at least one woman in the top ten. Of all the names on the proportional lists, 353 women's names are listed, the highest percentage ever. Three parties have placed women as the second name on their lists; those include Raffi Hovanissian's Heritage Party, Samvel Babayan's Alliance (Dashink) Party and Shavarsh Kocharian's National Democratic Party. However the likelihood that any of these parties will manage to pass the 5 percent threshold required to get into parliament, is slim. Only three parties out of the 28 have 3 women in their top ten, and 4 parties have two women in the top ten, the rest have the mandatory single name. The fact that there are women at all in the top ten names of these proportional lists is because Armenia's electoral code was amended and which now stipulates that parties must include 15% women in their proportional lists (from the previous 5% requirement), and at least one woman's name must be included in every ten names.
There are only 5 women who are vying for one of those 41 single-mandate majoritarian seats but the likelihood of their winning is almost nil, especially when you take into consideration that most of the incumbents and new candidates in the electoral districts that these women are running in are wealthy businessmen, with lots of resources and leverage, ultimately leaving women out in the cold.
nterestingly, in two electoral districts, there are two women candidates running against each other. A seasoned politician once said that if there was one independent woman running in a single-mandate seat then all political parties should collectively support her to ensure she wins. In his estimation this would help in the creation of a new political culture which would see broad based support for women. This suggestion obviously never came to fruition.
The problem is that there is no level playing field. Women do not enjoy the same privileges as men nor do they have the same access to finances, thus leaving them out of the game. During one of many conversations with men, including members of parliament, when talking about the lack of women in parliament and government, one politician posed the question - is it a level playing field even for the men in this country. Making it to the National Assembly for most it seems, man or woman is a matter of money and connections.
Throw into the mix election fraud and ballot rigging and women are further alienated. These elections will be a benchmark for Armenia. If the powers that be do not have the political will and moral fortitude to ensure that the elections are fair, free, and transparent, then many things will hang in the balance for the future of this country. Every political party is reaching out to the electors, asking them not to take bribes, promising that they will not be part of the extensive and imaginative forms of ballot rigging. Although everyone is saying the same thing, we are constantly bombarded by the news which documents the fact that some political parties are not only passing out bribes, but are also demanding voters' passports as insurance that their payment to the elector actually translates into a vote for their party. One cannot turn on the television without hearing the same sentiments being expressed. International and local observers will be monitoring the elections. International observers include, the Executive Committee of CIS, OSCE/ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) with 131 observers, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and PACE with 48 observers. There are 34 local organizations which have also registered to conduct election observation. One particular NGO, The Center for Youth, Legal and Social Support, is participating with 532 members.
To raise awareness among women voters, the Women Voter's League and the Women's Coalition of Armenia held several debates among women candidates, representing different political parties. The first debate was held on April 13 at the Sundukian Theatre in Yerevan. Over 500 women from different women's organizations and NGOs participated in a very lively debate which sometimes crossed the boundaries of etiquette and decorum. To an impartial observer, it seemed that some of the women in the audience, unaccustomed to this kind of forum, only wanted to pursue their own objectives. It became apparent toward the end, when the moderator had lost control of the situation that the level of frustration on behalf of most women was at its pinnacle. This is not surprising because in the past, women have rarely had the opportunity to voice their opinions and make their concerns heard. All the same, it was a first step in a long road to attaining women's participation and involvement.
It is imperative that more women make it to parliament in Armenia, not simply to increase numbers but to create a new democratic agenda in Armenian politics which can improve the lives of all the citizens in the republic. There cannot be real democracy in Armenia if over half the population is not involved in the process. If we continue to ignore the gender disparity in Armenia, it will come at a great cost to our society's ability to sustain growth, to govern effectively, increase productivity and eventually reduce poverty. The majority of women in Armenia want to have a role in the development and empowerment of our nation not only to advance women's rights or "interests" but because they want to have a stake in public policy development and ultimately bequeath to their children a country they can be proud of.
Although most indicators suggest that there will not be a significant increase of women in the National Assembly after May 12, we must continue to advocate for gender parity in all areas of public life in Armenia.