By Hovannes Shoghikian
Opposition parties can play a major role in ensuring the freedom and fairness of Armenia’s next national elections, a visiting senior official from the Council of Europe claimed over the weekend.
Roland Wegener, who heads a Council of Europe team monitoring the fulfillment of Yerevan’s membership obligations, made the point that that Armenian government should not be held solely responsible for the conduct of the parliamentary and presidential polls due in 2007 and 2008 respectively.
“If the opposition doesn’t participate in electoral processes, it can’t achieve any results,” Wegener said after talks with President Robert Kocharian and other senior Armenian officials. “It is not just the authorities that are responsible for electoral processes. Everyone should demonstrate that they can ensure free and fair elections.”
The two main opposition groups represented in the Armenian parliament as well as the Orinats Yerkir party of former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian control only one third of the seats in various-level commissions charged with the conduct of elections. Opposition influence on the handling of the previous Armenian elections, criticized as undemocratic by European observers, was negligible.
Opposition leaders, who also met with Wegener in Yerevan, claim that Armenia’s current leadership is inherently disinterested in holding democratic elections as it would run the risk of losing power. Some of them have threatened to boycott the 2007 vote.
Under Armenian law, the president of the republic, the courts and the parliament each control one of the nine seats in all electoral commissions, putting those bodies under the overwhelming control of Kocharian and his allies. Wegener said this mechanism needs to be changed so that other political groups not represented in the National Assembly are also represented in those bodies.
The Strasbourg-based German diplomat also made a largely positive assessment of the Kocharian administration’s compliance with its Council of Europe commitments. Speaking at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, he said he is impressed with the pace of ongoing legal reforms stemming from the controversial adoption of a package of Western-backed amendments to Armenia’s constitution.
Wegener was asked about the Council of Europe’s failure so far to get the authorities in Yerevan to lift their four-year ban on A1+, the only major television station that was critical of them. He said he raised the issue with Kocharian but was assured by the latter that Armenia’s existing TV channels do present a broad range of views on political developments going on in the country. He said Kocharian presented him with a list of recent televised interviews and talks that featured opposition politicians.
(Photolur photo: Roland Wegener.)