By Armen Zakarian
The opposition Artarutyun (Justice) bloc criticized on Tuesday a Council of Europe body monitoring Armenia’s compliance with the organization’s political standards, saying that its latest report is too lenient on the irregularities that marred this year’s Armenian elections.
The report approved by the body last month is to be discussed at the January session of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). It reviews the country’s progress in fulfilling its membership obligations and addresses the Armenian authorities’ handling of the 2003 presidential and parliamentary elections slammed as undemocratic by Western observers.
While noting the reported electoral fraud, the authors of the document -- Jerzy Jaskiernia of Poland and Rene Andre of France -- suggest that it did not seem to have affected the vote results and that some Armenian opposition activists too were involved in vote irregularities. They also claim that Armenia’s Constitutional Court withdrew its post-election call for a referendum of confidence in President Robert Kocharian.
The latter assertion was denounced as a “fabrication” by Shavarsh Kocharian, a leading member of Artarutyun who represents the opposition alliance at the PACE. He argued that under Armenian law the Court can not revise its decisions whatever its chairman, Gagik Harutiunian, or any other member says afterwards.
Harutiunian distanced himself last summer from the referendum call, saying that the matter no longer carries the same urgency. Jaskiernia’s and Andre’s conclusion is apparently based on that statement.
Shavarsh Kocharian (no relation to the Armenian president) also challenged the rapporteurs’ claim that the irregularities were not committed in the ruling regime’s favor only. “In our conditions, only those who control election commissions can make falsifications,” he said, adding that the overwhelming majority of commission seats are held by President Kocharian’s loyalists.
In their joint reports, election observers from the PACE and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe cited no instances of serious fraud that benefited opposition candidates. They also avoided stating whether or not the irregularities affected the outcomes of both polls.
The criticism of the report submitted by the PACE Monitoring Commission reflect the Armenian opposition’s growing disaffection with the Council of Europe. In an interview with RFE/RL last month, Artarutyun leader Stepan Demirchian said the Strasbourg-based organization is being “inconsistent” by demanding free and fair elections and then refusing to sanction the authorities in Yerevan.
Artarutyun’s Kocharian claimed that Council of Europe officials dealing with Armenia “only work with representatives of the government” who he said provide untrue information about various aspects of political reform in the country.