By Emil Danielyan
High-level officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reiterated on Tuesday OSCE criticism of this year’s elections in Armenia, but said they believe that its government is now ready to prevent widespread vote rigging in the future.
The vice president of the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly, Giovanni Kessler, and the director of the OSCE’s Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Christian Strohal, said they received assurances that the Armenian authorities will embark on a sweeping reform of the country’s flawed electoral system. The two men spoke to reporters in Yerevan after two days of what Kessler described as “important and encouraging” meetings with senior Armenian officials, including Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and the new chairman of the Central Election Commission, Garegin Azarian.
“Overall, we are encouraged by their readiness to see the need for reform, to cooperate with us and implement reform,” Strohal told the joint news conference.
Kessler said they told the officials in Yerevan that the OSCE bodies stand by their highly negative assessment of the Armenian presidential and parliamentary elections. Both polls were judged undemocratic by separate OSCE observer missions, which reported numerous instances of falsifications benefiting incumbent President Robert Kocharian and his political allies.
The criticism was brushed aside by some Kocharian associates in the wake of the disputed presidential vote. The most powerful of them, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, claimed in particular that the Western observers are less familiar with “Armenian mentality” than their counterparts from the Commonwealth of Independent States who gave the thumbs-up to the authorities’ handling of the elections.
“We are forward-looking,” Kessler said. “Our criticism is not aimed at dwelling on the past but at having a lesson learned and improving the electoral process so that it meets international standards in the future.”
According to the Italian parliamentarian, the OSCE wants the authorities to amend Armenia’s electoral legislation and punish individuals responsible for the reported fraud. He stressed that the legal amendments should enjoy the backing of the Armenian opposition which refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Kocharian and the recently elected parliament.
“When we say that people have to be held accountable, it doesn’t necessarily mean criminal prosecution,” Kessler explained. “The administrative and political responsibility must also be stressed.”
“We found our counterparts aware of the situation and willing to do their part of the process. And I am sure that conditions are now good for doing that. There are no imminent elections and the political forces have the time to deal with electoral reform,” he added.
The OSCE officials’ guarded optimism will hardly be shared by the opposition leaders who insist that Kocharian and political parties supporting him rigged the 2003 elections and will never organize free and fair polls. As one of them put it at a meeting with Kessler and Strohal on Monday, “An alcoholic who wants to quit drinking must first of all admit that he is an alcoholic. Otherwise, the disease will never be cured.”
(Photolur photo: Kessler, left, and Strohal.)