By Armen Zakarian in Strasbourg
The Armenian authorities sighed with relief on Monday when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) refrained from imposing political sanctions on them over their handling of this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections marred by fraud.
Meeting for its autumn session in Strasbourg, the 45-nation assembly made no mention of its threats not to recognize the credentials of its four new Armenian members elected in the May 25 parliamentary polls. The threats followed PACE observers’ strong criticism of serious irregularities reported during the vote.
The largely symbolic sanctions would have stripped the Armenian delegation, which includes a leading opposition lawmaker, of its voting rights. But its mandate was deemed accepted after none of the serving members of the PACE voiced any objections.
That Yerevan will avoid trouble became likely late last week when the PACE’s governing Bureau unexpectedly cancelled a planned debate on the state of democratization in the South Caucasus. One of its members, David Atkinson of Britain, argued on Monday that the PACE should address the issue after the upcoming elections in Azerbaijan and Georgia because any criticism might be exploited by election candidates there.
The decision sparked protests from some assembly members. However, they failed to muster sufficient support to force the debate.
The Armenian leadership hoped that the Council of Europe will look more kindly on their democratic record after the Armenian parliament’s ratification earlier this month of the sixth protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights that unconditionally bans capital punishment in peacetime. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian underlined those hopes when he arrived in Strasbourg to personally submit the ratification document to the organization’s secretary general, Walter Schwimmer.
“The situation is quite favorable for us,” Oskanian told RFE/RL after a meeting with Schwimmer on Monday. He said they also discussed Armenia’s broader Council of Europe commitments as well as the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Turkish-Armenian relations.
On Sunday Schwimmer organized an official reception for the PACE’s new members chosen by their respective national parliaments. The four Armenian lawmakers led by vice-speaker Tigran Torosian were among them. One of them, Shavarsh Kocharian, represents Armenia’s largest opposition alliance led by Stepan Demirchian.
Demirchian, who was President Robert Kocharian’s main challenger in this year’s presidential ballot, has grown disappointed with the Council of Europe’s stance on Armenia. He believes that the organization should have done more to ensure the freedom and fairness of the Armenian elections and pays too much attention to the formal abolition of the death penalty.