By Anna Saghabalian
A U.S. congressman who led the main international election monitoring mission in Azerbaijan called on the Armenian authorities Wednesday to ask the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to observe their upcoming constitutional referendum.
“My great hope is that we will be invited, and if we are, then we are prepared to send a small team to work on the November  referendum,” Representative Alcee Hastings, who also heads the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, told RFE/RL in Yerevan.
The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE’s Warsaw-based election-monitoring arm, said last week that it will not deploy any observers in Armenia due to lack of a formal invitation from the authorities in Yerevan. The latter declined to explain why they failed to extend such an invitation. It is also not clear if they faced any pressure from the U.S. and other Western governments holding sway in the OSCE.
The OSCE/ODIHR had at least 200 observers during each of the presidential and parliamentary elections held in Armenia over the past decade. None of those polls was judged free and fair. An ODIHR spokesman, Urdur Gunnarsdottir, told RFE/RL on Thursday that the 55-nation organization may monitor referendums as well, if it is asked to.
Armenian opposition leaders, who reject constitutional amendments sought by President Robert Kocharian, fear that the absence of a large number of Western monitors could facilitate a possible falsification of the referendum results. Hastings admitted that it is already too late for the OSCE to deploy a full-fledged monitoring mission.
“I have raised the subject with appropriate interlocutors here in Armenia and I am hopeful that they will, even at this late date, invite the OSCE/ODIHR,” said the Florida Democrat. “I am sure it would be prepared to send even a small team here for observation purposes.”
“I think if the government is interested in having the perception of legitimacy of their election, regardless of outcome, they would undertake to invite [OSCE observers]. But today no invitation has been extended,” he added.
The Armenian referendum will be monitored by a dozen representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). By comparison, Sunday’s parliamentary election in Azerbaijan was watched by more than 600 Western observers.
Hastings arrived in Yerevan on Tuesday from Baku where he expressed Western observers’ strong condemnation of serious irregularities that marred the Azerbaijani vote. He met with parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian later in the day.
According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, the congressman discussed with Oskanian the ongoing preparations for the constitutional referendum. “Minister Oskanian presented the political situation in Armenia in the run-up to the referendum and the government’s approaches and arguments,” the ministry said in a statement.