By Hrach Melkumian
The Armenian authorities bowed to Western pressure on Monday, reversing their controversial decision not to use transparent ballot boxes in this month's parliamentary elections and constitutional referendum.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) accepted the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's proposal to put at least two transparent boxes in each of more than 1,800 polling stations across Armenia. The OSCE office in Yerevan welcomed the move, saying that it will contribute to the transparency of the electoral process.
The CEC had earlier decided to revert to bigger wooden boxes on the grounds that they have enough space for three ballots which each Armenian voter will be asked to cast on May 25. The arguments were dismissed by the OSCE's separate mission that will closely monitor the polls. The head of the mission, Robert Barry, warned that a return to the old procedure would mark a “step backwards” in the country’s difficult transition to democracy.
The CEC gave no explanation for the unexpected change of heart. The deputy head of the OSCE office in Yerevan, Elaine Conkievich, denied that it was the result of strong international pressure on the Armenian authorities. "Our office has done nothing to pressurize them into accepting the transparency boxes," she told reporters.
Under the agreement reached with the CEC, the OSCE will supply an additional 3,400 transparent boxes to Armenia next week. Every polling station will have three such boxes -- two for ballots cast for parliamentary candidates and two for the referendum.
The OSCE had already delivered 2,000 transparent boxes ahead of the recent presidential elections marred by allegations of widespread ballot box stuffing and other irregularities.