By Ruzanna Stepanian and Karine Kalantarian
President Robert Kocharian has officially scheduled Armenia’s parliamentary elections for May 12 after telling government agencies and employees not to be distracted by the unfolding electoral race.
Kocharian set the widely anticipated date for the vote in a decree announced by his office late on Monday.
“The president of the republic will in no way be inhibited by the election period and is preparing to work in a regular, busy regime,” the presidential press secretary, Victor Soghomonian, said earlier in the day. “He expects and demands the same from the government and all ministries and departments.”
Speaking to journalists, Soghomonian would not be drawn on Kocharian’s involvement in the election campaign which is expected to prove crucial for his political future. “I don’t think his opinions [about election contenders] will be unknown to the public,” the spokesman said.
In a televised interview last month, Kocharian made no secret of his desire to see the next National Assembly dominated by his allies. He specifically mentioned the three parties represented in his government as well as the Prosperous Armenia party of businessman Gagik Tsarukian. Prosperous Armenia is increasingly regarded as Kocharian’s new main support base.
The presidential decree is be followed by a formal invitation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to send a full-fledged monitoring mission for the elections. The head of the OSCE’s election-monitoring arm, Christian Strohal, discussed preparations for the polls with Kocharian and other Armenian officials during a three-day visit to Yerevan earlier this month.
OSCE observers criticized the previous presidential and parliamentary elections in Armenia, giving weight to opposition allegations of vote rigging. The United States and the European Union have warned that a repeat of serious fraud would jeopardize Yerevan’s efforts to build closer ties with the West. Armenian leaders insist that they will do their best to ensure proper conduct of the next polls, a pledge dismissed by their political rivals.
Issues related to the upcoming vote were discussed on Friday by leaders of Armenia’s leading opposition parties and the visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza. Few details of the meeting were made public. One of its participants, Vazgen Manukian of the National Democratic Union (AZhM), said on Tuesday that he urged Western powers to send “as many election observers as possible,” to warn the Armenian authorities against using force against the opposition, and to make sure their position is not affected by the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“Whether they’ll do that is hard to say,” Manukian told a news conference. He said he is worried that “geopolitical interests” might lead the U.S. to turn a blind eye to vote rigging.