Senior representatives of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) will arrive in Yerevan on Monday to discuss with Armenia’s government and opposition leaders preparations for the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The PACE’s co-rapporteurs on Armenia, John Prescott and Axel Fischer, are due to meet with President Serzh Sarkisian, other senior Armenian officials as well as representatives of the country’s leading political groups. They will look into the Armenian authorities’ compliance with a resolution adopted by the Strasbourg-based assembly last October.
The resolution criticized by the Armenian opposition concluded that the authorities have essentially overcome the political fallout from Armenia’s 2008 post-election unrest. It said that in order to avoid a repeat of the deadly violence in Yerevan they should hold “genuinely democratic parliamentary elections,” reform the law-enforcement and judicial systems and create a “pluralist media environment.”
Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker from the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), insisted on Friday that the Sarkisian administration has already made considerable progress on all those fronts. In particular, he said, its “serious reforms” have resulted in an “atmosphere of tolerance” between the ruling coalition and opposition groups.
“Our European partners also think that quite a lot of positive work has been done,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He said the coalition has demonstrated its political will to hold free and fair elections with amendments to electoral legislation enacted last year.
In a further boost to Sarkisian, the PACE resolution said that those amendments created “an adequate basis” for the proper conduct of the parliamentary polls slated for May. The Armenian opposition strongly disagrees with this assertion, saying that the Electoral Code should undergo more radical changes.
In what they see as a compromise solution, the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Zharangutyun Party have proposed that the authorities only agree to abolish elections held in single-seat constituencies. They say that chances for massive vote rigging will decrease markedly if all of the 131 parliament seats are contested on the party-list basis. The ruling HHK has rejected the opposition demands.
Stepan Safarian, a Zharangutyun leader, said representatives of his party will stress the need for the voting reform when they meet Fischer and Prescott. The reform is also supported by the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK).
Opposition leaders also plan to discuss details of election monitoring planned by the Council of Europe as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Levon Zurabian, an HAK leader, said the opposition alliance will press for the deployment of Western observers in all of Armenia’s 2,000 or so polling stations.
Zurabian said that if the two European institutions are unable to deploy such a big observer mission they should at least make sure that their monitors stay in the same polling station throughout the voting and ballot counting process, rather than shuttle between various electoral precincts on polling day. That way it would be easier to prevent and expose fraud, he said.
“They should change their [monitoring] methodology,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “If that is not done, it will mean they are ready to turn a blind eye to vote falsifications.”
OSCE and Council of Europe observers described Armenia’s last presidential and parliamentary elections, marred by opposition allegations of widespread fraud, as mostly democratic.