By Ruben Meloyan
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian emphasized on Wednesday the significance of next month’s presidential election for Armenia’s international reputation and expressed concern in that regard about the possibility of post-election unrest in the country.
The Armenian authorities received a major boost to their international legitimacy and democratic credentials with Western observers’ largely positive assessment of their conduct of last May’s parliamentary elections.
“I think these elections will have an even bigger impact,” Oskanian said of the presidential vote scheduled for February 19. “If we conduct them well, our positions will definitely strengthen in the international arena.”
“But if we hold bad elections, I can say for certain that consequences will be negative and that Armenia will lose the reputation it acquired in the past year. That will have a negative impact on our foreign policy,” he added in a warning clearly addressed to his own government.
Armenian leaders and the election frontrunner, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, in particular, have said that they will do their best to ensure that the upcoming elections meets democratic standards. Opposition leaders are skeptical about such assurances, citing Armenia’s history of electoral fraud. Some of them have threatened to dispute fraudulent vote results with street protests.
Oskanian seemed worried about such possibility as he stressed the need for Armenian political groups to avoid election-related violence. “The people must make it clear to everyone that [violence] must not be a means of solving political issues,” he told a news conference. “I have the impression, based on my conversations with different people, that the issue of achieving political objectives by means of instability remains on the agenda of certain political forces.”
Oskanian declined to name those forces.
Sarkisian’s most radical opposition challenger, former Levon Ter-Petrosian, and his allies say they still have faith in the government-controlled electoral process and have no intention to stage the kind of post-election uprising that toppled the governments of neighboring Georgia and other ex-Soviet states.
Oskanian, meanwhile, sounded more positive about the upcoming election at a meeting later in the day with Geert-Heinrich Ahrens, head of the main international vote monitoring mission deployed in Armenia by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. A statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry cited Oskanian as telling Ahrens that its work will be a “real affirmation of the establishment of democracy in Armenia.”
Ahrens said, for his part, that the mission will comprise 28 long-term and about 250 short-term observers.