President Serzh Sarkisian has assured Armenians that he does not regard forthcoming parliamentary elections primarily as a means of clinging to power and said he needs popular support for their proper conduct.
“As you know, next year is also a year of the elections to the National Assembly,” Sarkisian said in his New Year’s address to the nation aired by Armenian television. “On many instances, elections have been perceived -- I repeat, perceived -- only as a means of grabbing or retaining power. It is high time to realize that there are much more eminent goals.”
“I have made my personal decision long ago: to do my best to get rid of those flawed stereotypes, to enroot principles of truly national and truly state approaches in the political life. I make no secret that to do that I have needed help and I still need help,” he said.
Sarkisian and other senior Armenian officials pledged to prevent serious fraud in the May 2012 elections throughout 2011. They said that a set of amendments to the Electoral Code approved by parliament in May 2011 will serve that purpose.
Armenia’s leading opposition forces cast doubt on the sincerity of these pledges. They have challenged the authorities to prove their commitment to free and fair elections by enacting more radical changes in the Electoral Code. Those include the holding of parliamentary elections on a solely party-list basis and mandatory inking of voters’ fingers.
Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) ruled out further amendments in the election law late last month, however. HHK representatives alleged ulterior motives behind the opposition demands.
Sarkisian himself scoffed in late November at a long list of anti-fraud measures that were proposed to him by opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian. He said Hovannisian is only seeking to undermine what he described as an ongoing process of Armenia’s democratization. The Armenian authorities will therefore ignore the opposition’s “venom” and “vicious goal,” he added.
Sarkisian has long been branded by his most radical political opponents as one of the chief architects of the country’s culture of electoral fraud. He managed his predecessor Robert Kocharian’s reelection campaign in 2003 and succeeded the latter in April 2008 after a disputed presidential election that sparked the worst street violence in Armenia’s history.
The Armenian president argued on November 26 that Western monitors mostly deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe described the 2008 ballot and the 2007 parliamentary elections as largely democratic. “Our goal is to eliminate the word ‘mainly,’” he told journalists. “That is, to have elections which fully correspond to international standards.”
The opposition strongly disagreed with the OSCE observers’ findings. The U.S. State Department similarly distanced itself with their verdict, calling both Armenian elections “significantly flawed.”