By Anna Saghabalian
The United States has proposed to sponsor a first-ever exit poll in Armenia as part of its efforts to facilitate the proper conduct of next February’s presidential election, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan said on Monday.
Joseph Pennington confirmed reports that he floated the idea at a December 4 meeting with Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and that the latter approved it. “We presented that idea to the prime minister and the prime minister was very enthusiastic, as he said so publicly,” he said. “We were very pleased at the prime minister’s very positive response and we hope to be able to do this.”
But the diplomat cautioned that despite Sarkisian’s support for the idea the Armenian authorities have yet to make the “final decision” on the U.S. offer.
Most national elections held in Armenia since independence were judged to be undemocratic by Western observers and fraudulent by opposition groups. Their official results gave victory to incumbent presidents and governing parties.
Speaking at a news conference, Pennington argued that exit polls “enhance the credibility” of election results all over the world and that Armenia would be no exception to that rule. “They give people more confidence that the election was fair,” he said. “The second benefit that they have is that they give a lot of information on who it was that voted in an election, the demographic segments of the population that took part and also try to get to the question of why the people voted the way they did.”
Pennington argued that the U.S. government would commission the U.S. International Republican Institute (IRI) to organize the proposed exit poll. He did not specify if the IRI would also do the necessary fieldwork for the poll or outsource the job to Armenian polling organizations.
The IRI has until now relied on one such organization, the Armenian Sociological Association (ASA), in handling U.S.-funded opinion polls held in Armenia. The ASA chairman, Gevorg Poghosian, is reputed to have close ties to the government. Hence, widespread opposition distrust in the findings of those polls relating to the approval ratings of the country’s leading politicians and political parties.
Pennington also said that Washington expects the Armenian presidential ballot to be “an improvement” over last May’s parliamentary elections which were positively assessed by Western monitors. He said an objective and unbiased media coverage of the vote is essential for its freedom and fairness.
“This is also one reason why we are such a strong supporter of Radio Liberty,” he said. “Radio Liberty was cited by the OSCE as one of the positive examples in which an electronic media outlet gave voice to opposition and served as a platform for all kinds of different voices in Armenia.”