By Armen Zakarian in Strasbourg and Ruzanna Khachatrian
A senior Armenian lawmaker downplayed on Tuesday the significance of calls for political sanctions against Armenia voiced at the ongoing session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
Armen Rustamian said a report suggesting that the PACE strip its Armenian members of voting rights because of widespread fraud in this year’s elections in Armenia entails “no legal consequences.” “It can not be considered a decision taken by the Council of Europe,” he told RFE/RL in Strasbourg.
Rustamian referred to the highly critical report unveiled on Monday by an ad hoc PACE committee that monitored the May 25 Armenian parliamentary elections. The report, submitted to lawmakers from the Council of Europe member states, says among other things that the assembly should “consider challenging the ratification of credentials of the new Armenian delegation given the scope and gravity of irregularities, in particular, during the vote count.”
Rustamian said the recommendation took him by surprise, suggesting that it was included at the last minute for reasons unknown to him. No PACE deputy except Rustamian spoke out against it during the ensuing debate on Monday. The clause is seen by some observers as heralding a toughening of the Council of Europe’s stance on the Armenian authorities widely criticized for their handling of the 2003 polls.
The threat of sanctions was implicitly welcomed by some opposition leaders in Yerevan. One of them, Victor Dallakian, predicted “serious international consequences” for the administration of President Robert Kocharian. “I think that the leadership of the country should have thought about this negative reaction from the Council of Europe before the presidential and parliamentary elections,” he said.
But leaders of the pro-Kocharian majority in the Armenian parliament said the situation is not as serious as it is presented by the opposition. “I don’t think that our delegation will be stripped of its mandate and that there will be other extremely unfavorable consequences for Armenia,” said deputy speaker Vahan Hovannisian.
Hovannisian stressed at the same time that the Armenian authorities must take the international criticism very seriously and “rectify the mistakes.” He admitted that there was “substantial” fraud in the May 25 elections. Rustamian likewise said that the authorities must embark on a sweeping reform of Armenia’s flawed electoral system.
Hovannisian and Rustamian are leading members of the pro-Kocharian Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) which accused Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK) of rigging the vote. Dashnaktsutyun agreed, nonetheless, to join an HHK-led coalition, citing the need for continued “political stability” in the country.