By Emil Danielyan
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian thanked observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Tuesday for their positive evaluation of his government’s handling of Armenia’s parliamentary elections which his Republican Party (HHK) won by a landslide.
“I think that with these elections we solved an important issue, and I agree that a new standard was thereby set for the forthcoming [presidential] elections,” he was quoted by his office as telling Boris Frlec, head of the observer mission deployed by the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
Sarkisian described as “impartial and objective” the mission’s preliminary conclusion that the May 12 elections were held “largely in accordance with international standards for democratic elections.” The verdict gave a massive boost to the international reputation of the Armenian government and the legitimacy of the HHK victory. It also sharply contrasted with the vote’s assessment by the Armenian opposition and many civil society representatives.
Virtually all opposition contenders have rejected the official vote results as fraudulent, alleging widespread voter intimidation, vote buying and other forms of electoral fraud. The allegations were echoed on Tuesday by the Dashink (Alliance) party of Samvel Babayan, the former military leader of Nagorno-Karabakh. The final results released by the Central Election Commission (CEC) over the weekend showed Dashink winning 2.5 percent of the vote and only one seat in the National Assembly.
In a written statement, Babayan’s party claimed that the CEC figures “do not reflect the will of the people” due to “vote irregularities registered in numerous polling stations.” It also accused Western observers of turning a blind eye to vote rigging.
The Armenian government’s press service quoted Frlec as insisting at the meeting with Sarkisian that the elections were a “clear step towards progress” and expressing hope that the authorities in Yerevan will look into violations reported by his monitors. In particular, the HHK, which effectively won an outright majority in parliament, should consider initiating yet another reform of Armenia’s electoral legislation, he said.
According to the statement, Frlec also noted that the OSCE mission is still working on its final election report which is expected to be issued next month. He had said at a May 13 news conference that long-term ODIHR observers will specifically “compare” the CEC tally with vote protocols issued by lower-level election commissions. Some opposition leaders claim to have already found glaring discrepancies in the official figures.
The ODIHR-led mission has so far refused to comment on the results of the data verification. Its preliminary report said counting of ballots was “bad or very bad” in about 20 percent of polling stations visited by the foreign observers.
Sarkisian said it is “extremely important” that the observers’ final findings “contain details and be specific.”
The mission spokesman, Ivan Godarsky, told RFE/RL that Frlec met Sarkisian as part of its “courtesy visits” to leaders of the main Armenian parties which are aimed at having a better understanding of the post-election situation in the country.