By Karine Kalantarian
President Robert Kocharian declined on Tuesday to meet with a visiting high-level official from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe who planned to discuss his government’s conduct of the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Goran Lennmarker, chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, said he was scheduled to meet Kocharian at the end of a two-day visit to Armenia that was part of his ongoing regional tour.
“I should have met him this morning,” Lennmarker told RFE/RL. “But I was told that he is out of Yerevan. I don’t know where.”
However, Kocharian’s spokesman, Victor Soghomonian, insisted that such a meeting was never planned and officially confirmed. Soghomonian said Lennmarker was informed beforehand that the Armenian leader will be on vacation and can not receive him during his stay in Yerevan.
Kocharian similarly shunned the U.S. ambassador at the OSCE headquarters in Vienna, Julie Finley, when she visited Yerevan last October. The diplomat was “very, very disappointed” with the apparent snub.
Both Finley and Lennmarker discussed the unfolding preparations for the May 12 elections which the West says will put Armenia’s democratic credentials to the greatest test yet. The OSCE assembly chief discussed the matter with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, parliament speaker Tigran Torosian and other senior Armenian lawmakers on Monday. They assured him that they will do their best to ensure that the polls are more democratic than the ones held until now.
Lennmarker was confident that Yerevan will formally ask the OSCE to send an vote monitoring mission. The first OSCE observers will arrive in Armenia in early April, he said.
OSCE observers reported serious fraud during the previous Armenian parliamentary and presidential elections, giving weight to opposition claims that they were rigged by the authorities. The Armenian opposition has used the criticism in challenging Kocharian’s legitimacy.
(Photolur photo: Lennmarker, right, meets with Torosian.)