By Emil Danielyan
A leading Armenian-American advocacy group expressed on Tuesday concern over strong international criticism of the Armenian government’s handling of the recent presidential election, urging President Robert Kocharian to investigate allegations of widespread vote rigging.
“We call upon the Armenian government to fully investigate all alleged violations of the election process and the rule of law,” the Armenian Assembly of America said in a statement. “Restoration of the public's trust in the democratic process must now be the highest priority of the Kocharian Administration.”
The statement is a rare case of an Armenian lobbying group in the United States openly criticizing the authorities in Yerevan. It reflects the extent of Western frustration with a perceived lack of progress in the democratization of Armenia’s political system.
“The people of Armenia deserved nothing less than the declared aim of their government for free, fair and transparent presidential elections,” the Assembly said. “As reported in depth by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), this achievable standard was not met.”
An OSCE-led mission that monitored the Armenian election concluded in a politically damaging report that the two-round vote was deeply flawed and fell short of international standards.
While deploring the alleged electoral fraud, the Assembly statement noted “significant accomplishments” such as the first-ever televised debate between the presidential finalists and the correction of notoriously inaccurate voter lists.
The Assembly is one of the two main Armenian-American lobbying groups which have been instrumental in making Armenia a leading per-capita recipient of U.S. government aid. The other group, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), is linked to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a nationalist party allied with Kocharian. Dashnaktsutyun leaders in Armenia have described the election as largely democratic.
For the past several years the Assembly and the ANCA have successfully blocked the Bush administration’s efforts to have the U.S. Congress significantly cut the assistance to Armenia which has averaged more than $100 million a year since 1992. They have argued that U.S. aid fosters Armenia’s democratization and should continue unabated. International criticism of Kocharian’s reelection could thus weaken their case.
In a statement earlier this month, the U.S. State Department expressed its “deep disappointment” with Armenia’s leadership, saying that it “missed an important opportunity to advance democratization by holding a credible election.”