By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian has assured Armenians that the forthcoming parliamentary elections will be free fair despite persistent claims to the contrary made by his political rivals.
“I am sure that they will be held up to the mark,” he said in his New Year address to the nation. “Free and fair conduct of the elections should be a priority for each of us - Armenia, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and the Diaspora.”
Kocharian did not elaborate on reasons for his optimism which is certain to be dismissed by the Armenian opposition and civic groups. He and other Armenian leaders are understood to have given similar assurances to the United States and the European Union.
The Western powers say the elections, due in May, represent an opportunity to end Armenia’s post-Soviet history of electoral fraud and resulting political instability. They have warned that failure to ensure the freedom and fairness of the polls would deal a severe blow to the Kocharian administration’s efforts to build closer ties with the West.
A clean vote is therefore seen as a necessary condition for the release of $235 million in additional U.S. assistance to Armenia and Yerevan’s participation in the EU’s European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) program. In his televised address, Kocharian listed the launch of Armenia’s plan of ENP-related actions and the promised extra U.S. aid among his government’s main achievements of the past year.
None of the presidential and parliamentary elections held during Kocharian’s nine-year rule were recognized as democratic by the international community. Armenian opposition leaders say government pledges to prevent a repeat of vote irregularities this time around should therefore not be taken seriously. They have also expressed concern about some of the recently enacted amendments to Armenia’s election law that are supposed to complicate fraud. Under one of those amendments, opposition parties will no longer be able to replace their representatives to government-controlled election commissions who are suspected of collaborating with the authorities.
Kocharian dismissed these concerns in a late December interview with Armenian television. He said opposition parties that are unable to stop their commission members being bribed or bullied by their rivals should not be entrusted with governing the country in the first place.