President Serzh Sarkisian reassured the European Union over the weekend that Armenia’s forthcoming presidential election, in which he will be seeking a second five-year term, will be free and fair.
Speaking after talks in Yerevan with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Sarkisian also said his government expects to complete by the end of next year ongoing negotiations with the EU on a far-reaching “association agreement.”
“I assured Mr. Barroso that we are committed to holding in February 2013 presidential elections meeting the highest international standards,” he told a joint news conference.
“We agreed that it is critically important that the next presidential elections are impeccable,” Barroso, who runs the EU’s Brussels-based executive body, said for his part.
EU officials have stressed in recent months that a further deepening of Armenia’s ties with the 27-nation bloc, sought by the Sarkisian administration, is contingent on the proper conduct of the presidential election. They have implied that a clean vote is also essential for the holding of an unprecedented conference of Armenia’s foreign donors planned by the EU.
Armenian leaders and Sarkisian in particular have repeatedly pledged to live up to these expectations. They point to their handling of last May’s parliamentary elections, which was cautiously praised by the EU.
Barroso reaffirmed that praise but, like other EU officials, called for further improvements in election administration.
Armenia’s main opposition groups dismiss the government pledges and say Sarkisian will seek to win reelection at any cost. They also claim that the May elections were rigged in favor of his ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
Barroso arrived in Yerevan on Friday to attend a summit of the leaders of Armenia, Georgia and Moldova that was organized by the European People’s Party. The one-day meeting was devoted to the efforts by the three former Soviet republics to integrate more closely with the EU within the framework of the Eastern Partnership program. Association agreements currently negotiated by each of them stem from that program.
The European Commission chief held separate talks with Sarkisian on Saturday. The Armenian president said he “reaffirmed our determination to develop and deepen Armenia-EU cooperation.” He also stated that Yerevan hopes to wrap up its complex association talks with the EU by November 2013.
A key component of the EU’s future association agreement with Armenia is the creation of a “deep and comprehensive free trade area.” The Eastern Partnership also makes the country eligible for a facilitation of the EU’s strict visa requirements for Armenian citizens.
Brussels and Yerevan finalized a visa facilitation agreement in mid-October. Barroso and Sarkisian announced that it will be signed in December.