By Armen Zakarian
Armenia will fill only two of its four seats in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) during the Strasbourg-based body’s summer session which will discuss last month’s Armenian parliamentary elections criticized by Western observers, officials said on Tuesday.
According to Armen Rustamian, the chairman of the new parliament’s foreign relations committee, the Armenian delegation will comprise only himself and the leader of the opposition National Unity Party, Artashes Geghamian. Speaking to RFE/RL, he did not explain reasons for the decision made by the leadership of the National Assembly, saying only that both he and Geghamian served in the previous Armenian legislature.
The previous four-member Armenian delegation at the PACE, of which Rustamian was a member, was made up of deputies representing the largest pro-government and opposition factions. Rustamian’s Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Geghamian’s National Unity have only the fifth and sixth largest parliament groups with 11 and 9 seats respectively.
By contrast, Armenia’s largest opposition group, the Artarutyun (Justice) bloc, holds 16 seats there. It is not yet known whether the bloc, which won the second largest number of votes cast for political parties, will stake a claim to a PACE seat. Artarutyun deputies have boycotted parliament sessions so far in protest against serious irregularities reported during the May 25 elections.
The Armenian authorities’ handling of the polls is on the agenda of the PACE session which begins on Monday. The 43-nation assembly will hear a report from a team of PACE observers who were in Armenia at the time. In a joint statement issued with a much larger monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, they concluded that the elections fell short of international standards.
The head of the PACE team, Lord Russell-Johnston, publicly questioned the credibility of the official voter turnout figures. The Armenian opposition claims that those were grossly inflated to ensure the victory of President Robert Kocharian’s allies.
Rustamian, whose party has also alleged widespread fraud, said Yerevan should take the Western criticism of its democratic credentials very seriously. “We must take substantial steps towards meeting international election standards,” he said. “Only in that case can we achieve a full integration into the European family of nations.”