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By Emil Danielyan

President Robert Kocharian threatened late Monday to “strictly punish” those law-enforcement officials who will attempt to affect the results of this Sunday’s local elections. He said holding a free and fair vote is vital for restoring public trust in the democratic process and improving Armenia’s image abroad.

“I explicitly forbid you from helping any candidate and taking part in the election campaign. You may express your personal attitude toward a particular candidate only by voting,” Kocharian told several dozen top government officials. Among them were Armenia’s prosecutor-general and the interior and national security ministers.

“These elections are extremely important for the country,” he said in televised remarks. “Both in terms of [international] reaction and popular faith in fair elections, they must create positive background for further elections.”

The president, who is seeking a second term in office, referred to the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for February and May next year. He himself has been accused by his political opponents of planning to falsify the presidential vote.

The October 20 polls will be held in 654 of 930 Armenian communities, including the second largest city of Gyumri and several administrative districts in Yerevan. The previous nationwide local polls took place three years ago and were described as “free and fair” by a monitoring mission from the Council of Europe.

Kocharian said that the law-enforcement agencies, which have often been responsible for chronic vote irregularities in Armenia, must be on their guard against “any attempts to destabilize the country.” He told the government-appointed provincial governors, who also attended Monday’s meeting, to display “extreme restraint” and avoid any involvement in the electoral battles.

The chairman of the Central Election Commission, Artak Sahradian, warned local government chiefs last week that voter registers in many of their constituencies are still inaccurate and may disrupt the local elections unless they are quickly corrected.

According to Kocharian, Armenian courts will be open on Sunday to allow those citizens whose names were not included in voter lists to cast their ballots.
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