By Emil Danielyan
The U.S. State Department has described Armenia’s recent presidential election as “significantly flawed,” effectively distancing itself from the vote’s largely positive assessment by Western observers.
“The February 2008 presidential elections were significantly flawed,” the State Department said in its latest report detailing its efforts to promote democracy and human rights around the world.
“Problems included favorable treatment of the government's candidate, instances of ballot stuffing, vote-buying, multiple voting, voter intimidation, violence against opposition commission members and proxies, and suspiciously high turnout figures,” added the report.
In their preliminary report, the more than 300 observers representing the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament concluded that the February 19 election was held “mostly in accordance with” democratic standards.
The State Department initially echoed this assessment, which gave a massive boost to the international legitimacy of Serzh Sarkisian’s dispute election win. However, U.S. officials subsequently sounded more critical of the Armenian government’s handling of the vote. In an early April interview with RFE/RL, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza attributed this to “very serious problems” that emerged during vote recounts in some of Armenia’s nearly 2,000 electoral precincts.
Those problems were detailed in a follow-up report released by the OSCE observer mission in early March. The mission’s final report is therefore expected to be less flattering for the authorities in Yerevan. But the latter hope that the observers will stand by their assertion that the presidential ballot was largely democratic.
In its report, the State Department noted that the authorities used force to break up daily demonstrations staged by supporters of opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian demanding a re-run of what they consider a fraudulent vote. “The state of emergency was lifted March 20, 2008, but restrictions on civil liberties remain in force due to a strict new law on public gatherings, pressure on opposition media, and continuing arrests and intimidation of government opponents,” it said.
The annual report also described the Armenian government’s human rights record as “poor.” “Citizens were not able to freely change their government; authorities beat pretrial detainees; the National Security Service and the national police force acted with impunity; authorities engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention; courts remained subject to political pressure from the executive branch,” it said.