By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Parliament speaker Tigran Torosian played down on Thursday the implications of a recent opinion poll which suggests that most Armenians do not think that next year’s parliamentary elections will be free and fair.
Torosian insisted that the Armenian authorities will do their best to stamp out chronic electoral fraud and hold polls recognized as democratic by the domestic public and the international community. “It would be interesting to gauge public opinion and make comparisons after good elections,” he told RFE/RL.
The U.S.-funded poll, which was conducted last spring and released this week, found that 70 percent of Armenians believe that the parliamentary elections due in May 2007 will not be cleaner than the ones held in the past. The majority of respondents also saw a grave lack of democracy in Armenia and said the country is on the wrong track.
Torosian described the findings of the voter survey as “somewhat worrisome” but said they should be taken with a pinch of salt. “Do not think that in established democracies a large percentage of citizens trusts the government’s steps and objectives,” he said. “People are unhappy with government in all countries. And quite a lot of them.”
Torosian, who is a senior member of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), also argued that openly voicing support for government is considered a “bad thing” across the former Soviet Union.
Torosian and other senior officials admit that a repeat of serious fraud reported in virtually all Armenian elections held since independence would deal a severe blow to Armenia’s democratic credentials. They say the authorities in Yerevan are committed to ensuring the proper conduct of the upcoming elections.
Such assurances, however, were dismissed as “demagoguery” by Stepan Demirchian, the top leader of the main opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance. “It would be surprising if the public believed in free and fair elections after the bitter [electoral] experiences of 1998 and 2003,” he told RFE/RL. “Having said that, we will certainly continue our struggle. We will do everything to rule out vote falsifications.”
Demirchian would not say what specifically the Armenian opposition can do to prevent such falsifications next time around.