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By Emil Danielyan
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called on the Armenian authorities Friday to end the “atmosphere of impunity” which it said was responsible for this year’s troubled elections and stands in the way of Armenia’s democratization.

In its final report on the May 25 parliamentary elections, the OSCE observer mission in Armenia reaffirmed its conclusion that the vote was not free and fair because of widespread irregularities reported by its approximately 200 monitors. The report contains a long list of anti-fraud recommendations, including a change of the existing rules for the formation of electoral bodies.

“The 25 May 2003 parliamentary elections in the Republic of Armenia marked an improvement over the 2003 presidential election in the campaign and media coverage, but fell short of international standards for democratic elections in a number of key respects, in particular the counting and tabulation of votes,” the report reads.

“The political leadership of the country made efforts to discourage violations, but perpetrators were again not held accountable. The authorities must end this atmosphere of impunity to give a clear sign of determination to meet their international commitments for democratic elections.”

The Armenian authorities say they have opened 26 criminal cases in connection with the reported vote irregularities. However, nobody has been put on trial or faced other punishment so far. The need for such punishment was stressed by two top OSCE officials who visited Yerevan last week.

The OSCE report notes that although the international observers positively assessed voting in about 90 percent of polling stations visited by them, they found “significant problems” during the counting and tabulation of ballots. “Serious irregularities were noted in a third of all counts monitored by international observers,” it says. “Violations included ballot box stuffing, falsification of results and intimidation of observers and proxies.”

The official results of the elections gave victory to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK). The Republicans got 40 of the parliament’s 131 seats, followed by the pro-presidential Orinats Yerkir party which has 19 seats. Armenia’s main opposition force, the Artarutyun alliance, finished third with 16 seats.

Artarutyun refuses to recognize the outcome of the vote, accusing the authorities of large-scale vote rigging. Similar allegations have also been made by some parties supporting President Robert Kocharian.

The OSCE’s Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which released the election report, has suggested a package of amendments to Armenia’s electoral code which it believes would complicate fraud. Those deal, among other things, with registration of election candidates, safeguards against double-voting and publication of vote results from all polling stations.

Speaking to journalists in Yerevan on July 22, ODIHR director Christian Strohal said the Armenian authorities have assured him that they will embark on a sweeping reform of the electoral system. However, the Armenian opposition remains highly skeptical about their commitment to democratic elections.
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