By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia has joined Russia, Belarus and four Central Asian states in demanding serious restrictions on the often troublesome Western monitoring of their elections, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe confirmed on Friday.
The OSCE’s election-monitoring arm, the Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said it is bewildered by Yerevan’s decision to back the move just months before Armenia’s crucial presidential election.
Under proposals tabled by Russia to the OSCE’s Vienna-based governing council on September 18, the ODIHR-led election observer missions deployed in OSCE member states would comprise no more than 50 people. They would be barred from assessing the conduct of those elections before the announcement of their official results. More importantly, the Russian proposals, would enable the OSCE’s 56 member governments to influence the content of observer reports.
The Russian initiative, backed by Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, came in advance of Russia’s December 2 parliamentary elections and presidential vote scheduled for next March. Moscow has yet to formally invite the OSCE to monitor the polls.
Although this is not the first time Armenia endorses Russian criticism of OSCE efforts at democracy building in the former Soviet Union, its latest move is somewhat unexpected given Western observers’ largely positive assessment of its May 2007 parliamentary elections. The vote was monitored by more than 200 OSCE representatives. The previous Armenian parliamentary and presidential elections were criticized by the OSCE as undemocratic.
“We observed elections in Armenia earlier this year and Armenia did not have any problems with the number of our observers and their findings,” ODIHR spokeswoman Urdur Gunnarsdottir told RFE/RL. “So we don’t see any good reason why Armenia would support such a proposal now.”
Gunnarsdottir said the head of the ODIHR, Christian Strohal, raised the issue with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and other Armenian official during a visit to Yerevan earlier this week. Official Armenian sources made no mention of this, saying only that Strohal discussed preparations for the upcoming presidential elections.
Echoing arguments made by Russian officials, a spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Yerevan supports the proposed restrictions on OSCE vote monitoring “in the light of ongoing reforms of the OSCE.” “Armenia is actively involved in the process of reforms and believes it is important that the organization become more representative, transparent and equal for everyone,” Vladimir Karapetian told RFE/RL.
The United States criticized the Russian proposals on Thursday. "The U.S. would not want to see ODIHR's effectiveness weakened under the guise of 'reform,"' said Kyle Scott, deputy chief of the U.S. mission to the OSCE. "The Russian proposals do nothing to strengthen its work.”
“From the point of view of an election observer, it is not a good proposal and flies in the face of what we have been doing for the last ten years,” agreed Gunnarsdottir. “I don’t really see why there is a need to limit the number of observers and their ability to speak about their findings.”