By Astghik Bedevian
The U.S. Government is planning to implement a $7-million assistance project for the 2007 parliamentary and 2008 presidential elections in Armenia through the U.S. Agency for International Development.
USAID Yerevan Office Head Robin Philips told RFE/RL on Monday that the funds will be provided exclusively to organizations and that political parties will not have access to this funding.
Philips reiterated that it is the first time the United States has paid such great attention to elections in Armenia.
“There are nine pieces of the program. There probably will be some eight organizations doing the work. For example, the National Democratic Institute is one of them,” he said.
According to the USAID, one of the major points of the program is verification of voter lists.
“A piece of this program is going to be to work with the passport and visas registration office, OVIR, who are working on the voter lists, in order to make sure that the voter lists are accurate,” Philips said.
The program also includes work with voters to increase their awareness of their rights. Some funds will also be provided to organizations engaged in sociological surveys and the USAID hopes that political forces in Armenia will be able to get reliable poll data from them at the pre-election stage. Instruction of judges regarding the electoral legislation is another aspect of the program. “We want to make sure that judges who are in court dealing with those cases understand the electoral law as well,” Philips said.
“It is important to understand that the U.S. Government believes in free and fair elections as a way for moving from one political situation to the next.”
As regards the political struggle in Armenia in the pre-election year with the emergence of new political parties, the USAID head said: “The idea is that parties will be based on issues and not on individual personalities.”
Philips also commented on the allegations made by Armenia’s Public Television last month that one of the USAID projects was misused to give assistance to the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party led by Armenia’s former foreign minister Raffi Hovannisian.
“If there are specific charges or allegations about misuse of our funds, then we have a process for dealing with that, but not for vague statements,” he emphasized, adding that the USAID controls its funds and programs very tightly.