President Serzh Sarkisian believes that the unwillingness of opposition forces to accept official election results giving victory to the incumbent contenders has been a key factor behind chronic political tension in Armenia, according to a newspaper supporting him.
“How many presidential elections have we had and which of the [defeated] candidates has ever stood up and congratulated his rival on victory?” “Golos Armenii” on Tuesday quoted Sarkisian as saying. “The problem is that elections are often treated like the game of backgammon.”
This is the main obstacle to the creation of an “atmosphere of mutual trust” among Armenia’s leading political actors, he reportedly added during a visit to the Russian-language paper’s editorial offices last week.
“If presidential candidates honestly conduct an election campaign, recognize vote results and congratulate the winner, then the people won’t say that elections were falsified,” continued Sarkisian. “Maybe in the beginning there will be people who will accuse [those candidates] of being bribed and conceding defeat for that reason. But if that becomes a tradition, it will help to create an atmosphere of trust in the society.”
None of the presidential and parliamentary elections held in Armenia since independence has been judged free and fair by international observers. Sarkisian, who has held key positions in government since 1993, has long been accused by opposition politicians of personally ordering and overseeing vote rigging.
The last presidential election, which was held in February 2008 and brought Sarkisian to power, received a more positive assessment from Western monitors than previous Armenian votes.
Still, Sarkisian’s main challenger, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian refused to concede defeat and organized massive demonstrations in Yerevan to demand a rerun of the ballot. The authorities used deadly force to suppress those protests.
Speaking at the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg last month, Sarkisian pledged to “spare no effort” to ensure that parliamentary elections due in Armenia next year are democratic. He pointed to new amendments to the Electoral Code that were enacted by his administration in May.
The country’s leading opposition groups dismiss the newly amended code, saying that the Armenian authorities still lack the political will to hold democratic elections and thus run the risk of losing power.