The Armenian authorities appear to be committed to holding elections widely recognized as free and fair, a senior representative of the Washington-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) said on Thursday.
Michael Getto, head of the IFES office in Yerevan, said he arrived at this conclusion as a result of his meeting with senior Armenian officials.
The authorities in Yerevan have pledged to ensure the proper conduct of the next parliamentary elections slated for May 2012. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said earlier this week that they will be more democratic than any of the other elections held in Armenia since independence.
Asked by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) whether he thinks the Armenian government has the political will to prevent serious fraud, Getto said, “Right now yes, I do.”
Armenia’s main opposition forces are far more skeptical, pointing to the authorities’ past electoral record criticized by the West. They also dismiss as insignificant recent amendments to the Electoral Code which the authorities say will complicate vote falsifications.
The pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament blocked earlier this year more radical amendment proposed by the opposition. Those would require election commissions to ink voters’ fingers and publicize lists of citizens who cast their ballots.
Opposition leaders say this would preclude multiple voting as well as fraudulent voting on behalf of hundreds of Armenians that are absent from the country but remain on the national vote registers.
The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) claims that as many as 500,000 such bogus ballots were cast in favor of the main establishment parties and their candidates in the last national elections. The top HAK leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian, has repeatedly said that the next polls cannot be democratic unless this problem is addressed.
Tigran Mukuchian, the chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC), denied the HAK allegations on Thursday. He acknowledged only possible minor “inaccuracies” in the vote registers.
Getto, for his part, declined to comment on those claims. “I don’t know anything about that,” he said.
The IFES official also would not say whether he supports the HAK calls for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other Western-led structures to deploy monitors in each of about 2,000 polling stations across Armenia. He said only that he expects “a robust presence of observers” in the May 2012 elections.
Previous Armenian elections were monitored by roughly 300 observers mostly deployed by the OSCE.