By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Visiting parliamentarians from the Council of Europe expressed concern at what they see as a widespread voter apathy reigning in the run-up to Armenia’s parliamentary elections as they ended a three-day visit to Yerevan on Friday.
Preparations for the May 12 vote dominated their meetings with President Robert Kocharian, other senior government officials and leaders of the country’s main political groups involved in the election campaign. The four members of the Council of Europe Parliamentary (PACE) reaffirmed the significance of its proper conduct for Yerevan’s membership in the Strasbourg-based organization and broader efforts at European integration.
“The [PACE] Delegation was heartened by the assurances of the Armenian authorities, and all political stakeholders it met, that it is their intention to hold elections that fully meet Council of Europe stands for democratic elections,” they said in a statement released to local journalists.
The delegation headed by Dutch lawmaker Leo Platvoet was at the same time worried about continuing inaccuracies in voter lists and the Armenian authorities’ earlier refusal to introduce the inking of voters’ fingers, which was advocated by Council of Europe experts and Armenian opposition politicians. The proposed measure was supposed to prevent multiple voting for pro-government parties and individual candidates, a practice that was reportedly commonplaces in the previous Armenian elections.
“The delegation was concerned over its overall impression of a lack of popular interest in the election process by the electorate,” read the PACE statement. “Such attitudes of apathy, or even cynicism, are not conducive to the development of democracy in Armenia.”
The last parliamentary elections held in May 2003 were characterized by a record-low voter turnout. The authorities put it at just over 50 percent, a figure opposition leaders rejected as grossly inflated. Many Armenians clearly continue feel that election results are predetermined by the authorities and that their votes would therefore not make a difference.
The PACE members suggested another explanation for the perceived apathy: “The delegation was not able, with few notable exceptions, to discern marked differences between the political platforms of the contenders. It was left with the impression that the upcoming elections are regarded by many as a struggle between political elites and not between concepts and ideas.”
The European lawmakers went on to deplore the “exorbitant costs” of campaign advertisements that have been set by Armenia’s leading television stations loyal to President Robert Kocharian. They also strongly condemned Thursday’s explosions outside two Yerevan offices of the pro-Kocharian Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).
The PACE urged Armenia to break with its troubled electoral past and to ensure the freedom and fairness of the upcoming elections, in a resolution adopted last January. The authorities in Yerevan say they are doing their best to achieve that goal. They argue, in particular, that most of the recently enacted amendments to the Armenian Electoral Code are based on Council of Europe recommendations.
A group of PACE members are expected to monitor the elections along with about 350 observers to be deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Parliament speaker Tigran Torosian said on Friday that all but one parties represented in the outgoing National Assembly have agreed to form an ad hoc working committee that will promptly examine and address observer concerns in the weeks leading up to the contest.
(Photolur photo: The PACE members meet Kocharian.)