By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe officially launched on Thursday the monitoring of Armenia’s February 19 presidential election which will be crucial for the international legitimacy of its outcome.
As always, the observation mission deployed by the OSCE’s Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) will closely watch the pre-election campaign, voting and counting of ballots to assess the election’s conformity with democratic standards.
“We will conduct the observation according to the OSCE/ODIHR standard methodology,” Geert-Hinrich Ahrens, head of the mission, told a news conference in Yerevan. “We all come to this country with an open mind and we all hope that after the election we will be able to state further progress towards meeting OSCE standards,” he said.
According to Ahrens, the mission is beginning its work with eleven core staff who will be joined “very soon” by 28 long-term observers to be deployed across Armenia. The ODIHR also plans to deploy some 250 short-term observers on election day, the German diplomat said. In addition, the vote is expected to be monitored by several dozen members of the parliamentary assemblies of the OSCE and the Council of Europe as well as the European Parliament, he added.
The previous Armenian elections were monitored by a similar number of mainly Western observers who often reported serious irregularities, giving weight to allegations of vote rigging made by the Armenian opposition. The most recent, parliamentary elections held in Armenia last May were different in that regard, though, with the OSCE/ODIHR describing them as largely democratic.
Officials from the United States and the European Union have expressed hope that the upcoming presidential ballot will judged to be even less flawed. The authorities in Yerevan have assured them that they will do their best to ensure its freedom and fairness. Opposition leaders dismiss such assurances, however.
Ahrens he arrived in Armenia earlier this week and has already met with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and the chairman of the Central Election Commission, Garegin Azarian. He declined to comment on allegations of unfair play that are already being voiced by opposition presidential candidates/
In particular, opposition candidates, notably former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, and their allies complain about what they see as an extremely biased coverage of their activities by the country’s main broadcasters loyal to the government.
Terry Davis, the Council of Europe secretary general, echoed those complaints as he received the election favorite, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian in Strasbourg last November. “I think the situation, as it is analyzed today with the media in Armenia, does not meet the standards of the Council of Europe to a large extent,” Davis told RFE/RL afterwards.
Ivan Godarsky, a spokesman for the OSCE mission, said the observers will look into the Armenian media’s coverage of the election campaign as part of their work. “We will do a standard media monitoring operation to assess qualitative and quantitative sides of the media performance,” he said.