By Karine Kalantarian
Former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian on Wednesday urged the West not to turn a blind eye to serious fraud which he believes could mar Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections.
“Unfortunately, there are forces in the Armenian government that might try to steal the upcoming elections,” he said in an article published by “The Wall Street Journal.” “And there are those abroad who might turn a blind eye to such a scam in the name of stability.”
"But stability will only come to Armenia and the region through governments supported and elected by the people," he added. "That's why we need international election monitors. The OSCE mission in Armenia must be supported so that it can do its job."
Baghdasarian's Orinats Yerkir Party will be a major opposition contender during the elections. His comments expose opposition fears that the United States and the European Union will more lenient towards Armenia’s leadership now that it seems close to cutting a peace deal with Azerbaijan. The Western powers expect the two states take the final step towards resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict after the Armenian elections slated for May 12.
Baghdasarian repeated in that regard opposition arguments that only democratically elected governments in Yerevan and Baku would the have the mandate to make painful mutual concessions. “The way to resolve in Nagorno-Karabakh the conflict is through elections that produce legitimate governments -- first in Armenia but eventually in Azerbaijan as well. This popular legitimacy will give the next governments the authority to make the necessary concessions,” he wrote.
President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders have assured the West that the approaching elections will be more democratic that the ones held until now. But their political opponents dismiss these assurances, saying that the authorities will lose power if the vote is free and fair.
In a separate interview with RFE/RL on Wednesday, Baghdasarian stressed that the Armenian opposition can play a serious role in ensuring its proper conduct. “We must primarily rely on ourselves,” he said. “We must fight for a democratic Armenia. But if there are big falsifications, there will be big upheavals.”
Visiting Washington last week, the ambitious ex-speaker, who favors a pro-Western foreign policy agenda, likewise warned that a repeat of serious vote irregularities could spark opposition demonstrations in Yerevan. The Kocharian administration already faced street protests in 2003 and 2004 over its hotly disputed handling of the last Armenian presidential election . Baghdasarian and his party were part of the governing coalition at the time.
In his article, the Orinats Yerkir leader described Armenia as an “undemocratic country” mired in government corruption. “The citizens of Armenia are not free,” he said. “Our media is state-controlled and TV airtime for opposition parties during the parliamentary campaign is severely limited.”
Baghdasarian, whose is often branded a populist by his detractors, would not say if he raised his concerns with Kocharian before Orinats Yerkir was forced out of Kocharian’s coalition government in May last year. He claimed that the situation with press freedom in Armenia has since deteriorated. “Never before has there been such total [government] control of television before,” he told RFE/RL.