Two officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe discussed details of its planned monitoring of Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections during a two-day visit to Yerevan that ended on Wednesday.
Nicola Schmidt, deputy head of an election department at the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), and Raul Lucian Muresan, an ODIHR election expert, met with senior representatives of the country’s leading political forces. The meetings focused on practical modalities of what will be the largest election observation mission deployed in the country in May.
As has been the case in the past, its findings will be crucial for the international legitimacy of the polls. The Armenian authorities have pledged to make them the most democratic in the country’s history.
Davit Harutiunian, a senior lawmaker representing the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), reaffirmed the authorities’ stated commitment to free and fair elections when he met with Schmidt and Muresan on Wednesday. He pointed to recent amendments to the Electoral Code that were largely praised by European and U.S. officials but dismissed as insignificant by the Armenian opposition.
Meeting with the ODIHR officials on Tuesday, leaders of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) presented more radical election-related amendments favored by the HAK and other major opposition groups. They also reiterated HAK calls for Europe’s main vote-monitoring institution to deploy more observers this time around.
“We believe that a large monitoring mission is in the interests of Armenia and the international community, which attaches a lot of importance to the elections,” Vladimir Karapetian, the HAK’s foreign policy spokesman, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The opposition bloc believes that the mostly Western observers should be present at all of Armenia’s 2,000 or so polling stations on election day. The previous Armenian elections were watched by roughly 300 observers from the OSCE as well as the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.
Levon Zurabian, an HAK leader, said last month that if the European institutions are unable to send such a big observer mission they should at least make sure that their monitors stay in the same polling stations 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. “If that is not done, it will mean they are ready to turn a blind eye to vote falsifications,” warned Zurabian.
Parliament deputies from the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) also advocated changes in the vote-monitoring methodology at a separate meeting with the ODIHR officials on Wednesday. One of them, Artush Shahbazian, said all monitors should arrive in Yerevan one week before the elections and not leave polling stations during voting.
According to an HAK statement, Schmidt said the OSCE/ODIHR will announce the size and other details of the mission after receiving a formal invitation from the Armenian government.
OSCE/ODIHR observers described as mostly democratic Armenia’s last parliamentary and presidential elections that were marred by opposition allegations of serious fraud.