Representatives of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) met with Armenian civic activists on Wednesday at the start of a fact-finding visit to Yerevan aimed at assessing the Armenian authorities’ stated commitment to electoral and other reforms.
The British lawmaker Alan Meale and his Italian colleague Giuseppe Galati are the Armenia co-rapporteurs of a PACE committee monitoring member states’ compliance with their obligations to the Strasbourg-based organization. They will submit a report to the PACE later this year.
Meale and Galati are scheduled to meet with President Serzh Sarkisian, other senior Armenian officials, opposition leaders and civil society representatives during the two-day trip. A PACE statement released on Tuesday said they will focus on “the follow-up to constitutional changes, electoral reform and the fight against corruption” during the meetings.
The rapporteurs will specifically look into a new Electoral Code which will greatly influence the conduct and outcome of next year’s Armenian parliamentary elections. The Armenian government pushed the code through the parliament in the first reading last month over strong objections voiced by opposition parties. The latter have condemned the government for rejecting most of their amendments aimed at preventing serious fraud in the polls.
Several civic activists echoed the opposition criticism at the meeting with the visiting PACE representatives. Vartine Grigorian of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, a human rights group, said she told them that the government has refused to make significant concessions to the opposition.
Grigorian also pointed to serious fraud that was reported during last December’s referendum on President Sarkisian’s controversial constitutional changes envisaging Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic. “The conduct of the constitutional referendum does not give us reason to believe that further electoral processes will be free of irregularities and fraud,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Avetik Ishkhanian, the chairman of the Armenian Helsinki Committee who also took part in the meeting, dismissed government assurances that the constitutional reform will facilitate Armenia’s democratization. He said Sarkisian and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) are intent on maintaining their grip on power in the years ahead.
Speaking ahead of the PACE rapporteurs’ visit, Levon Zurabian, a leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), complained that the Sarkisian administration remains reluctant to reach a consensus with the opposition on the Electoral Code. He said he will convey the same message to Meale and Galati.
“Without such a consensus, there can be no good developments for Armenia on the international stage,” claimed Zurabian.
Hermine Naghdalian, a deputy parliament speaker and senior member of the ruling HHK, rejected the criticism, saying that the Armenian authorities cannot be expected to satisfy all domestic political groups. She also insisted that the authorities have already made major changes in the proposed election legislation.
“Just look at the difference between the initial version of the Electoral Code and the one which we have now,” Naghdalian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).