By Karine Kalantarian
Armenian society has not yet matured enough to hold elections meeting Western standards for democracy, the head of Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) claimed on Monday in another bid to rationalize serious irregularities reported during the recent presidential vote.
Artak Sahradian echoed Robert Kocharian’s earlier complaints that the West, which has strongly criticized his reelection, is too strict in assessing Armenia’s commitment to liberal democracy. Sahradian said bluntly that it is “absurd” to expect an election not marred by vote rigging from a nation that has been independent for only 11 years and had for decades been part of the Soviet empire.
“The society itself should develop and reach that level,” he told a seminar in Yerevan. “Believe me, it is impossible to bring it [to that level] artificially.”
The seminar, organized by the Council of Europe, focused on ways of improving electoral practices that have long thwarted Armenia’s democratization and tarnished its image in the West. Sahradian claimed that despite the chronic electoral fraud, the country is slowly but steadily moving towards the standards it pledged to respect when it joined the Strasbourg-based organization in January 2001. The disputed presidential election marked another step in that direction, he added.
A joint observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) concluded that the vote, held in two rounds on February 19 and March 5, fell short of democratic standards. The observers reported “widespread” ballot box stuffing and other “serious” irregularities.
While admitting “numerous” violations of the law during the voting and counting processes, Kocharian insists that those had no impact on the official outcome of the election. He has also complained that the Western observers standards for a clean vote were too stringent for a country like Armenia.
Sahradian, like other senior Armenian officials, argued that they reported significant irregularities only from 13 percent of polling stations they visited during the March 5 run-off. The OSCE/PACE mission called it a “disturbingly high figure,” in its final election report issued last week.