By Ruben Meloyan
The U.S. embassy in Yerevan organized on Tuesday a training course for dozens of Armenian officials, which is aimed at preventing and combating fraud in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The three-day seminar is attended by some 70 judges, prosecutors, senior police officers, election commission members, and state human rights officials. They will be trained to by officials from the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI as well as law-enforcement officials from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
“The participation of the Armenian government in this seminar demonstrates that they acknowledge that there are problems, that they are willing to take them on,” the U.S. charge d’affairs, Anthony Godfrey, told journalists. “The seminar is part of my government’s democracy promotion strategy,” he said, referring to a $6 million program designed to foster proper conduct of the May 12 elections.
A separate statement by the U.S. embassy said that six Armenian prosecutors and two members of the Central Election Commission will be sent to the United States for “additional training on combating election fraud.”
U.S. officials have said that a clean vote is a key condition for the provision of $235 million in additional U.S. economic assistance to Armenia. The Armenian government has assured Washington and other Western government that it will do its best to rule out serious vote irregularities. However, its domestic political opponents have dismissed such assurances, saying that the authorities will try to cling to power at any cost.
Addressing the seminar, Godfrey drew the participants’ attention to a widespread skepticism about the freedom and fairness of the elections. “Recent polling shows that while most Armenians plan to vote in the upcoming elections, they lack confidence that the process will be fair,” he said. “Part of this lack of confidence comes from their belief that election fraud goes unpunished here. Vigilant enforcement and prosecution of election fraud will deter future fraudulent behavior.”
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe have repeatedly urged the Armenian authorities to punish individuals guilty of ballot box stuffing and other serious fraud. But nobody is known to have been prosecuted for such violations.
(Photolur photo: Anthony Godfrey.)