By Emil Danielyan
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian made a case for Armenia’s democratization in a televised interview broadcast late Wednesday, warning that the country risks paying not only a political but also an economic price for its culture of electoral fraud.
He specifically warned that the Armenian authorities will miss out on multimillion-dollar assistance from the United States if they fail to ensure the freedom and fairness of the next elections.
“Democracy is the main guarantee of Armenia’s continued economic development,” Oskanian told the private Kentron television.
“We are now in a situation where any step away from democratization and a repeat of electoral fraud would have an economic cost. And I can name that cost: 235 million dollars,” he added, referring to the amount of extra U.S. aid to Armenia that was approved this month as part of Washington’s Millennium Challenge Account program.
A U.S. government agency administering the scheme made its allocation conditional on “corrective steps” that would improve Yerevan’s human rights record and rule out voting irregularities in the future. The Millennium Challenge Corporation expressed concern about reports of serious fraud that marred the recent constitutional referendum in Armenia.
According to Oskanian, a proper conduct of the next parliamentary and presidential elections, due in 2007 and 2008 respectively, is also vital for Armenia’s relations with the European Union, another major donor. The EU has also criticized the handling of the November 27 referendum, openly questioning Yerevan’s commitment to democracy.
“We can not afford to find ourselves in a similar situation after the next elections,” said Oskanian. The West has now “higher expectations” from Armenia and the latter would fail to meet them with mere claims that irregularities did not affect election results, he said.
The stark warning was addressed to “those individuals who resort to violations” of the electoral law. Oskanian did not name them, saying only that the country must not suffer “for the sake of some people’s political careers.” The Syrian-born former U.S. citizen went on to urge the authorities and the Armenian opposition to embark on a “dialogue” on the issue.
That the referendum was accompanied by serious irregularities is also admitted by other government officials and pro-establishment politicians. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, for example, said earlier this month that Armenia’s leadership should “draw appropriate conclusions so that such actions are not carried out during the next elections.”