By Emil Danielyan
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe began on Tuesday a crucial monitoring of next month’s parliamentary elections in Armenia, urging its government to prevent a repeat of irregularities that marred the recent presidential vote.
Ambassador Robert Barry, the American head of the new OSCE observation mission, said the Armenian authorities should, among other things, punish individuals involved in electoral fraud and ensure “greater transparency” in the vote count and tabulation.
“It is our hope that the monitoring of this election will result in the conclusion that these elections meet recognized international standards and are in conformity with the law,” Barry told a news conference, in a veiled reminder of the OSCE’s highly negative assessment of the Armenian presidential election.
“During this period we will assess the election process against both national Armenian legislation and recognized international standards for elections,” he said. “Our observers will monitor the election campaign, including the media; the administrative preparations for the election; and the resolution of complaints and disputes relating to the election.”
The multi-national team, whose findings will be decisive for the legitimacy of the May 25 polls, currently numbers 28 election experts from 17 OSCE member states. They will be joined by about 250 short-term observers shortly before the voting. There were about 200 of them during both rounds of the presidential balloting.
It is expected that the OSCE mission will again submit its preliminary and final reports jointly with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The PACE will also deploy more observers in Armenia this time.
Barry said part of the monitoring mission will be to assess whether the authorities have implemented OSCE recommendations made after the presidential election which, according to the OSCE and PACE, failed to meet international standards. He said those recommendations include “some kind of judicial or administrative consequences for cases where there were violations of law in the past.”
Armenian law-enforcement agencies have so far not arrested or prosecuted anyone in connection with irregularities reported during the February 19 and March 5 elections.
Barry further noted that the authorities should make the vote count more transparent, ensure “more balanced” media coverage of the candidates and refrain from arresting people attending opposition rallies. “The practice of administrative detentions in connection with election-related events ought to be stopped,” he said, echoing OSCE criticism of the government crackdown on the Armenian opposition following the presidential election.
It also emerged that the Armenian Central Election Commission (CEC) will no longer use transparent ballot boxes provided by the OSCE ahead of the presidential election and will instead revert to old wooden boxes. The CEC argues that the transparent boxes are too small to accommodate three ballots which each Armenian voter will have to cast next month.
The OSCE office in Yerevan has proposed to supply a separate transparent box to every polling station for ballots to be cast in the referendum on draft amendments to Armenia’s constitution, also scheduled for May 25. However, the CEC rejected the idea on the grounds that Armenia’s Electoral Code does not provide for that.
Barry regretted the decision, saying that multiple ballot boxes “would have aided in transparency and would have also made the count process more manageable.” “It does not appear at this point that the Central Election Commission is going to be able to approve transparent ballot boxes for this election, although we think this could have been possible,” he said.