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By Emil Danielyan
Western observers made a positive assessment of the Armenian government’s handling of the weekend parliamentary elections, saying that they were largely democratic despite a “bad” counting of ballots in a considerable number of polling stations.

The findings of some 400 observers mostly representing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) came as a further serious boost for President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who have retained a comfortable majority in Armenia’s parliament.

“The Armenian election elections were an improvement from previous elections and were conducted largely in accordance with international standards for democratic elections,” Tone Tingsgaard, vice-president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, said on behalf of the observer mission that also comprised parliamentarians from the European Union and the Council of Europe.

“The conduct of the voting was assessed positively in the vast majority of polling stations observed,” she told a news conference in Yerevan. “And the vote count, although very slow, was mostly conducted in a correct manner.”

“It is good to see that the previous elections, which were strongly criticized by the international community, were not repeated,” said Leo Platvoet, head of a delegation of observers from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). The Armenian authorities have addressed many of the election-related recommendations made by the Strasbourg-based organization, he said.

Marie Anne Isler Beguin, who led a smaller team of monitors from the European Parliament, likewise said that the elections took place without “major incidents” and were a “step forward” in the democratization of Armenia’s political system.

A 10-page preliminary report released by the heads of the OSCE-led observer mission concluded at the same time that the authorities in Yerevan were “unable to fully deliver a performance consistent with their stated intention that the election would meet international standards and some issues remained unaddressed.” It noted in particular that counting of ballots was “bad or very bad” in about 20 percent of polling stations visited by the observers.

“This figure is far too high to [make one] feel comfortable,” said Platvoet.

Boris Frlec, who led the mission’s core segment deployed by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, expressed concern at a delayed the tabulation of vote results from many polling station in Yerevan by the Central Election Commission. “This does not correspond to the fact that have already received vote protocols [from those polling stations] this morning,” he said. “The mission is in the process of comparing data from the received protocols with all the election results posted on the CEC website.”

Both Frlec and Platvoet said that their observers also witnessed instances of voters being bused to polling stations across the country. But they said the observers have no compelling evidence to claim that those voters were bribed by pro-government candidates. Armenian opposition parties say vote buying was widespread during and in the run-up to Saturday’s voting.

The mission’s report listed specific polling stations in various parts of the country where the mostly Western observers claim to have witnessed multiple voting, “deliberate falsification of results,” and other types of electoral fraud.

Still, Tingsgaard insisted that none of those reported violations were serious enough to significantly affect the election outcome. But she stopped short of explicitly endorsing the credibility of the vote results released by the Central Election Commission. “It is my hope that they reflect the will of the people,” said the OSCE parliamentarian.

“It’s not black and it’s not white,” Platvoet said of the conduct of the vote. “But I think it’s more white than black.”

(Photolur photo)
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