Armenia could face a new bout of political upheaval if its government fails to hold “genuinely democratic” elections and implement other reforms, according to two senior representatives of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE).
The PACE’s co-rapporteurs for Armenia, John Prescott and Axel Fischer, have also renewed their calls for the release of all Armenian opposition members remaining in prison.
The two men issued the warning late last week as they briefed the PACE’s Monitoring Committee on their recent fact-finding visit to Yerevan .
“The successful conduct of the [next] elections is essential for the normalization of the situation and democratic consolidation of Armenia,” they said in an “information note” submitted to the panel.
“The current status quo with regard to reforms, combined with the ongoing political polarization and the deteriorating social and economic environment, could potentially lead to renewed social unrest if unaddressed and not followed by genuinely democratic elections,” they warned.
Prescott and Fischer stood by their view that the continuing imprisonment of several supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, who were arrested in connection with the 2008 unrest in Yerevan, continues to “poison the political environment in Armenia.” They said it could also have a “negative impact” on parliamentary elections due in May 2012.
The most prominent of these detainees are former parliament deputy Sasun Mikaelian and Nikol Pashinian, the editor of the opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak.”
The PACE co-rapporteurs described their detention as the “main impediment for the normalization of the political situation.” They complained that the Armenian authorities are “not willing to demonstrate any leniency towards these two persons.”
Davit Harutiunian, the head of the Armenian parliamentary delegation at the PACE who also attended the Monitoring Committee meeting, on Monday described Prescott’s and Fischer’s statement as “very natural.”
“I think any sensible person will agree with such a point,” Harutiunian told a news conference. “Indeed, the conduct of proper elections in the country is extremely important.”
President Serzh Sarkisian and his three-party governing coalition have pledged to make the next elections more democratic by enacting a new Electoral Code. The Armenian parliament, which is controlled by them, began debating a relevant bill last month.
The opposition minority in the National Assembly has rejected the bill as inadequate, saying that the parliament majority has ignored all of its key proposals. Opposition representatives also dismiss government pledges to reform the judicial and law-enforcement systems.
While welcoming those pledges, the PACE co-rapporteurs cautioned that legislative changes alone are not sufficient and “should be accompanied by policies aimed at changing existing practice and mentalities.” “This is especially important with regard to the reform of the judiciary,” they said.
Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) welcomed the criticism but said the PACE should back up its statements with concrete actions. “Despite the toughening of the criticism, it is not clear what the PACE will do if our authorities refuse to budge,” Arman Grigorian, the HAK’s representative to the Council of Europe, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“They should clarify the actions, the sanctions which they are ready to take if the Armenian authorities don’t change their behavior,” Grigorian said.
The full PACE is not expected to discuss the political situation in Armenia before its autumn session in September.