By Ruben Meloyan
Top representatives of the European Union sounded on Wednesday optimistic about the freedom and fairness of Armenia’s upcoming presidential election, citing the Armenian authorities’ conduct of last May’s parliamentary polls.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the issue was high on the agenda of their meetings in Yerevan with President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders. They reiterated that a clean vote is a necessary condition for Armenia’s successful participation in the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) program.
“We have found that the democratic atmosphere has progressed in the past year,” Rupel told reporters after the talks. He expressed hope that the February 19 vote will mark an improvement over the May 2007 elections which Western observers described as largely democratic. “This presidential election will be an opportunity to further improve some standards even if previous elections have not been bad,” he said.
Citing the opinion of a Council of Europe body dealing with legal reform, Ferrero-Waldner said she is confident that there will be such an improvement. “We do hope that the presidential elections will indeed be competitive, free and fair,” she said. “I think the last elections already have shown good results.”
Ferrero-Waldner added that the EU also expects Armenia to strengthen rule of law and improve the business environment in the country in line with other commitments stemming from its participation in the ENP.
“We are interested in holding really good elections in accordance with international standards,” President Robert Kocharian assured the visiting EU officials earlier in the day. A statement by the presidential press service said Kocharian also briefed them on the current state of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and his governments efforts to ensure Armenia’s energy security.
“We have an in-depth discussion and I am very happy with its results,” Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said for his part.