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A senior European Union official on Friday called on the Armenian authorities to prevent serious irregularities in parliamentary elections due in May 2017, saying that their conduct could determine “the future of Armenia.”

Piotr Switalski, the head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, warned of “further stagnation” in the country that might follow the vote. “The elections of 2017, the first elections under the new constitutional arrangements, may have a really big role for the future of Armenia,” he said in a speech.

“It’s not simply about another election,” emphasized Switalski. “I think it’s about the future of Armenia in a larger sense, it’s about the confidence of the people in the political governance of Armenia, and it’s also about Armenia’s image in the international community.”

The 2017 elections will determine who will govern Armenia after President Serzh Sarkisian completes his second and final term in April 2018. Under Sarkisian’s controversial constitutional changes enacted in December, Armenia will switch to the parliamentary system of government by that time. The next president of the republic will be elected by the parliament and have largely ceremonial powers.

Switalski stressed the importance of a new Electoral Code, which the authorities plan to enact this this spring, for the proper conduct of next year’s polls. The EU hopes that they will “consult” with European experts and make sure that the code is also acceptable to the Armenian opposition, he said.

“We hope very much that the final shape of the Electoral Code will have a consensual character,” added the diplomat. “It will be very important for the next elections.”

Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) have already promised to enact new electoral legislation that will provide for a democratic contest. Their political opponents are highly skeptical about these assurances, pointing to what they call a falsification of the constitutional referendum held on December 6.

Shortly after the referendum the EU urged the authorities to properly investigate “credible” allegations of fraud voiced by the opposition, independent observers and media.

Switalski reiterated the EU calls. “For us, [ongoing fraud investigations] will be a very important signal as to how to prepare ourselves for the next elections,” he said.

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