By Shakeh Avoyan
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an influential governing party, said on Monday it is close to achieving an agreement that will commit Armenia’s main political groups to fair play in next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
Dashnaktsutyun leaders held a series of meetings last week with opposition representatives to discuss their proposal to sign a declaration pledging joint efforts to ensure that the polls are free and fair. At least two major opposition groups, the People’s and Hanrapetutyun parties, welcomed the initiative aimed at preventing chronic vote irregularities -- the main source of political tension in Armenia.
“Their leaders demonstrated that they are really concerned about the country’s future,” a top Dashnaktsutyun leader, Vahan Hovannisian, told RFE/RL.
But some other opposition parties dismiss the initiative as a pre-election gimmick. The popular leader of the National Unity party, Artashes Geghamian, alleged on Monday that President Robert Kocharian is now trying to distract public attention from his planned “large-scale vote falsifications” with the help of his loyal Dashnaktsutyun. He said his party will not sign the proposed declaration unless it contains explicit criticism of the current regime.
“It is very strange when a governing party tells the opposition: ‘Let us make sure that the authorities do not rig the elections’,” said another top oppositionist, Arshak Sadoyan. He argued that Armenian law already guarantees free elections and that the authorities must simply obey it.
But Hovannisian countered that a consensus of the main political parties is very important because Armenia is still not a rule-of-law country.
Kocharian had initiated a similar declaration in the run-up to the March 1998 presidential election. However, its signing by his main election challengers did not stave off massive vote irregularities which led international monitors to conclude that the vote fell short of democratic standards. Just hours after polling stations closed almost all opposition candidates issued a joint statement accusing the authorities of falsifying the election results in Kocharian’s favor.