By Hrach Melkumian
A senior U.S. diplomat on Wednesday expressed concern about growing reports of irregularities in Armenia’s presidential election campaign, again warning that Washington will challenge the legitimacy of the February 19 ballot if it falls short of democratic standards.
“There have been a lot of allegations of irregularities. They are disturbing and could potentially have a significant impact on the election process,” John Ordway, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, told a news conference. “We expect that the authorities…will vigorously investigate the charges, undertake corrective action if required, and take effective steps to ensure that the election campaign takes place within the framework established by the laws of Armenia.”
The stark warning followed mounting opposition allegations that supporters of President Robert Kocharian are bullying their opponents and illegally using their government resources to ensure the incumbent’s reelection.
Ordway again made it clear that a proper handling of the vote is more important for the U.S. than its outcome, saying that only a legitimately elected Armenian president can count on international support in dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenia’s chief security challenge. “The United States has not, and will not, support or oppose any candidate in this election. The choice must be made by the people of Armenia,” he said.
The remark was apparently aimed at dispelling speculation that the U.S. would like to see Kocharian reelected because of recent years’ progress in the Karabakh peace process and could therefore turn a blind eye to possible irregularities.
Other Western diplomatic sources in Yerevan have also denied such claims. One diplomat told RFE/RL recently that the level of Western scrutiny of the upcoming polls will be “much more focused than it was in the past.”
The Armenian election was on the agenda of Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian’s meeting in Washington on Tuesday with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and other senior U.S. officials. Armenian Foreign Ministry said the two sides discussed “issues related to the election campaign,” but gave no further details.
Ordway also stressed that Armenia must ensure a clean vote if it is to “take its rightful place among the democracies of the world.” He added his voice to Western election monitors’ calls for the Central Election Commission to publish a precinct-by-precinct breakdown of vote results shortly after the polling.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has deployed the largest Western-led monitoring mission in Armenia, believes that the measure would seriously complicate possible fraud.