By Ruzanna Stepanian
Opposition leader Stepan Demirchian on Thursday scoffed at Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s assurances that next year’s parliamentary elections will be the cleanest in Armenia’s history, pointing to the latter’s involvement in previous polls marred by serious fraud.
Sarkisian said at the weekend that 2007 will see “the best elections that have ever been held in the republic’s territory.” He insisted that he and his Republican Party (HHK) will not try to rig the vote to win control of Armenia’s next parliament.
But Demirchian, who leads Armenia’s largest opposition grouping, claimed that this pledge “can not be taken seriously” because of what he described as Sarkisian’s “rich experience” in vote rigging. He reiterated opposition allegations that the powerful defense chief was a key architect of serious fraud reported during the last presidential and parliamentary elections. Sarkisian managed President Robert Kocharian’s reelection campaign and ran for parliament on the HHK ticket at the time.
“Who kept him from holding free and fair elections in 2003?” Demirchian told RFE/RL. “No individual involved in the falsifications at the time has been held accountable. Those forces that were responsible for vote rigging can not speak of democratic elections.”
The United States and the European Union, which have strongly criticized the previous Armenian elections, say the next polls will be a crucial test of Armenia’s democratic credentials. A senior EU official warned this week that a repeat of vote irregularities would thwart Yerevan’s efforts at European integration.
Sarkisian made it clear, however, that he does not consider the 2003 elections to be deeply flawed despite the “shortcomings” reported by domestic and international monitors. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, those shortcomings were serious enough to make them fall short of democratic standards.
Demirchian also hinted that the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance, of which he is the top leader, will likely break up ahead of the parliamentary vote due to growing differences between a dozen parties aligned in the bloc. “We will cooperate with opposition forces and new alliances are not ruled out,” he said, referring to his People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK). “But the HZhK is ready to take part in the elections on its own.”
Some of the Artarutyun parties have been discussing with other opposition forces the possibility of forming a pro-Western opposition alliance.