The Armenian authorities have criticized Britain’s ambassador in Yerevan for raising questions regarding the freedom and fairness of Armenia’s upcoming presidential election.
“I don’t think that it’s quite correct to make evaluations at the ambassadorial level before the elections as to what will happen,” Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian told a news conference on Thursday.
Education Minister Armen Ashotian, who is also a deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, similarly wrote on his Facebook account on Wednesday that the remarks by Ambassador Katherine Leach “cause bewilderment.”
Writing in her blog on Tuesday, Leach welcomed President Serzh Sarkisian’s declared commitment to a clean vote but called “disappointing” the fact that by three leading Armenian opposition forces did not field or endorse any presidential candidates.
“Are these parties not standing because they lack finance, because they lack trust in a fair result, or because they are not really opposition parties as we would normally understand the concept?” she asked. “If they lack finance, is it because potential wealthy backers are concerned about what will happen to their businesses if they back the wrong horse – or because they have not found a way of communicating their message in a way which would inspire donations from the general public?”
Two of those opposition forces, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), have said they do not believe the February 18 election will be democratic. The HAK claims that vote rigging has become so entrenched in Armenia that changing its government through elections is now impossible.
Leach seemed to echo some of the opposition concerns regarding the election conduct. In particular, she questioned the accuracy of the Armenian voter registry. “The fact that the list has continued to increase since 1991 when people’s day to day experience tells them that the country has lost population creates unease for the ordinary voter,” she said, suggesting that “annual re-registering” of eligible voters might be a solution for future Armenian elections.
“In the meantime, the authorities can make every effort to follow up and investigate precincts where there appear to be unusually high turn-out or vote tabulations showing surprisingly repetitive numbers,” added the British envoy.
The authorities have consistently denied opposition allegations that they have deliberately inflated the voter lists to be able to cast fraudulent ballots on behalf of hundreds of thousands of voters absent from Armenia. The United States and the European Union have given a largely positive assessment of their handling of parliamentary elections held last May.
“After over a decade of elections badly marred by fraud, perhaps the biggest challenge for the Armenian authorities in this election is trying to rebuild and win the trust of its people and partners,” wrote Leach. “Will this happen? I very much hope so.”