By Emil Danielyan
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will likely demand that Armenia “at last” hold elections recognized as democratic by the international community when it meets for a regular session next month, it emerged on Thursday.
The demand is contained in a draft resolution that was approved by the PACE’s Monitoring Committee this week and is widely expected to adopted by the Strasbourg-based assembly without major amendments in late January. It stresses the “particular importance” of proper conduct of the next Armenian parliamentary and presidential elections due in early 2007 and 2008 respectively.
“It is essential that the next ballot should at last comply with European standards for free and fair elections, as proof of Armenia's progress along the road to democracy and European integration,” reads the document posted on the PACE website. It deplores Yerevan’s failure to ensure the freedom and fairness of the previous elections.
The Monitoring Committee report urges the Armenian authorities to display the “political will” to prevent a repeat of serious fraud reported by local and Western observers in the past. “A clear message must be conveyed that in the next elections fraud will simply not be tolerated,” it says.
Still, the proposed resolution makes a largely positive assessment of the fulfilment of Armenia’s Council of Europe membership obligations, singling out the passage of a raft of amendments to the Armenian constitution in a disputed November 2005 referendum. “The revised constitution is now consistent with European standards and principles of democracy and the rule of law and offers a new foundation for developing the democratic functioning of Armenia's institutions,” it says.
The Monitoring Committee will specifically ask the PACE to welcome greater powers given to Armenia’s parliament, cabinet of ministers, judiciary and local governments. It will also note the fact that Armenians are now able to challenge government decisions and laws in the Constitutional Court.
Armenia’s main opposition forces are highly skeptical about the positive impact of the Western-backed changes, saying that the administration of President Robert Kocharian has repeatedly violated the constitution to cling to power. They point to the authorities’ handling of the constitutional referendum which was strongly criticized by Council of Europe observers.
The draft PACE resolution acknowledges that the enacted amendments alone will not make Armenia a more democratic country. “Simply passing legislation is not enough to implement democratic reforms,” it says. “The Assembly calls on the Armenian authorities to take the necessary steps so that the law is effectively applied, which does not always appear to be the case at present.”
In particular, the resolution voices concern at widespread reports of police torture and the authorities’ continuing grip on the Armenian electronic media. “The limited number of complaints lodged which result in members of the police being found guilty of abuse of authority or of exceeding their authority, as well as the greater number of allegations concerning which no complaint is lodged for fear of reprisals, continue to fuel the feeling that impunity prevails,” it says.