By Emil Danielyan
Senior diplomats from the United States and other Western powers have urged the Armenian authorities to take urgent measures to ensure the legitimacy of next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
In a letter to the Central Election Commission (CEC), the Yerevan-based ambassadors of the U.S., Britain, France, Italy and Germany suggested several legislative changes which they believe would complicate possible vote rigging. The letter, publicized on Wednesday, was also signed by representatives of the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
“Members of the international working group on elections call upon the Central Election Commission…and Armenian authorities to undertake measure to improve electoral procedures in time for the Presidential Elections on 19 February 2003 and the Parliamentary Elections on 25 May 2003,” it reads.
The Western envoys’ recommendations center on the continuing inaccuracies in the nationwide voter lists, lack of transparency in the vote counting process and the presence of unauthorized persons in polling stations.
“The voters’ lists should be reviewed and updated to be made as accurate as possible before the upcoming elections,” they said, pointing to instances of votes cast for deceased and absent people and group voting reported during the recent local elections.
The inaccurate voter lists also feature large in a package of legislative changes put forward by opposition factions in the Armenian parliament.
They claimed that protocols of vote results signed by lower-level election bodies are still not publicized by the CEC and that the rights of candidates’ proxies are still violated. The letter refers to the “ambiguous role” of police on polling days. “Further regulations are needed to define the role of police, proxies and other persons authorised to be present in the polling station,” it said.
The opposition proposes to give the proxies more rights allowing them to bar unauthorized people from polling stations. But some of those rights are opposed by the parliament’s pro-government majority which nonetheless appears ready to accept other opposition proposals. A tentative agreement on them was reached by the main parliament factions on Tuesday.
The Western ambassadors’ message is their first de facto warning to official Yerevan to ensure the freedom and fairness of the approaching polls. The diplomats noted that although last month’s local elections “marked an improvement over previous years,” they are concerned about “the accuracy and transparency of the vote.”
A monitoring mission from the Council of Europe described the October elections as “an important stage in Armenia’s efforts to consolidate and strengthen democratic institutions at the local level.”