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By Emil Danielyan
The secretary general of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, warned the Armenian authorities on Friday that a proper conduct of Sunday’s parliamentary elections will be vital for Armenia’s continued membership of the Strasbourg-based organization.

"Elections must be free and fair. This is much more important than the number of parliamentary seats won or lost," Schwimmer said in a statement. "I call upon all those who take part in the elections to use the time before polling day to reflect upon this fact."

"Free and fair elections are at the heart of democracy," he added. "Failing to meet Council of Europe standards is not acceptable for a member state. Armenia owes this to its voters and also to the Organization."

The parliamentary polls, which will be combined with a constitutional referendum, will be closely monitored by 24 officials from the council’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). They will again operate in conjunction with a much bigger observer mission deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The PACE and the OSCE strongly criticized the authorities’ handling of the presidential election earlier this year, concluding that it fell short of democratic standards because of “widespread” irregularities. Both organizations have since made it clear that the parliamentary elections are an opportunity for Armenia to repair the damage to its international reputation caused by the last poll.

Schwimmer starkly warned in April that a repeat of serious irregularities would mean a political “disaster” for Armenia. He on Friday stressed that the counting of votes should be prompt and transparent.
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