Armenia’s next parliamentary and presidential elections will be “unprecedented” in terms of their transparency, Garegin Azarian, the chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC), said on Tuesday.
Azarian said the integrity of the electoral process in the country will improve markedly already during the parliamentary race scheduled for next spring.
“The openness of these elections will be unprecedented compared with previous elections,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in an interview.
Azarian based his stated optimism on fresh amendments to the Electoral Code that were enacted by the Armenian authorities in May. He singled out a new provision that requires the CEC to publicize every hour data on voter turnout from all of Armenia’s 2,000 or so polling stations.
President Serzh Sarkisian likewise stressed the importance of those amendments when he addressed the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in Strasbourg last June. He pledged to “spare no effort” to ensure that the next Armenian elections are widely recognized as democratic.
Armenia’s leading opposition groups dismiss such statements, however. In particular, they point out that the CEC continues to be headed by Azarian, who was in charge of the last parliamentary and presidential elections marred by fraud reports.
The disputed presidential ballot held in February 2008 also led to deadly street clashes between opposition protesters and security forces.
Azarian claimed last month that elections are perceived as fraudulent by many Armenians because of opposition parties and candidates unjustly crying foul after their poor performance shown by official vote results. Sarkisian, the disputed winner of the 2008 vote, similarly complained earlier in July about the unwillingness of opposition forces to accept those results.
The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) says that only pre-term elections held this year could be more democratic. The conduct of such polls is the main issue on the HAK agenda.
Azarian insisted on Tuesday that the CEC and lower-level commissions, many of them still not formed, would be physically unable to hold snap elections. He also argued that some of the amendments to the Electoral Code will take effect on January 1.
The CEC chief at the same time did not explicitly rule out the possibility of the HAK and the government agreeing on fresh polls in their ongoing negotiations. “If they reach agreement and it will be necessary to hold pre-term elections, the Central Election Commission will find appropriate solutions together with the National Assembly,” he said.