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The latest parliamentary elections in Armenia marked a major step forward in the democratization of the country’s political system, John Heffern, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, said on Friday.

“We followed the elections carefully and very closely,” Heffern told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We think there was a lot of progress in several key areas.”

“Access to the media was much better than in the past,” he said. “That’s a good thing. The polling places were orderly and transparent and seemed to be consistent. The people were all trained, and having the videos inside seemed to help. So there were a lot of positive developments in these elections.”

Heffern noted at the same time that the May 6 vote was also marred by irregularities, including those reported by monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “Obviously there were continued problems as well,” he said. “The ODIHR, the OSCE’s election observers, identified them clearly. Vote buying was still a major problem and [so was] the misuse of administrative resources. So there is still some work to do for the elections next time.”

The European Union has also reacted rather positively to the Armenian authorities’ handling of the elections. In a joint May 8 statement, the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele spoke of “progress towards more transparent and more competitive elections” in Armenia.

The U.S. and EU reactions will clearly put the Armenian government in a better position to defend the credibility of the official election results that gave a landslide victory to the ruling Republican Party (HHK). The country’s three main opposition groups have rejected them as fraudulent, saying that the HHK secured its victory mainly through vote buying and multiple voting by its supporters.

For its part, the OSCE-led monitoring mission gave a mixed assessment of the election conduct in its preliminary findings released on May 7. The mission praised the pre-election environment in Armenia but reported irregularities in a “significant number” of polling stations on polling day.

U.S. and EU officials sounded positive about the Sarkisian government’s declared commitment to political reform in the months leading up to the elections.

Heffern last month complained about what he described as widespread voter apathy in Armenia and urged its citizens to be more active in fighting for democratic change. “I do not personally share this pessimism and apathy about the prospects for change and reform,” he said in a speech in Yerevan.
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