By Ruzanna Stepanian
Parliament speaker Tigran Torosian said on Thursday that the May parliamentary elections will be vital for Armenia’s future but pointedly stopped short of promising that they will be free and fair.
Torosian made the point that the significance of the proper conduct of the vote goes far beyond hundreds of millions in additional Western assistance to Armenia, notably a $235 million aid package promised by the United States under the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program.
Visiting Yerevan last week, a senior official from a U.S. government agency handling the scheme reiterated that the release of the funds is contingent on “significant improvement over past [Armenian] elections.”
Torosian said the official, John Hewko, told him that “unless there are good elections, the program could be terminated.” “During our conversation I said that any assistance is certainly important for Armenia,” he said. “But these elections are even more significant for Armenia’s future than tens of millions of dollars in aid.”
The Armenian authorities have assured both the U.S. and the European Union that the polls slated for May 12 will be more democratic than the ones held until now.
But Torosian, who is a leading member of the governing Republican Party (HHK), made no such forecasts on Thursday. “I can predict with certitude only those things that depend only on myself,” he told a news conference.
Asked whether be is confident that the HHK will not resort to vote rigging, Torosian replied, “Who do you mean by the Republicans? The Republican Party has tens of thousands of members. Can anybody pledge to control the actions of each of those tens of thousands of members? I don’t think so.”
“I can’t exclude that something [bad] involving a member of the Republican Party might happen,” the Armenian speaker added. He claimed at the same time that the HHK leaders are committed to free and fair elections
Two of those leaders, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian, have played keys roles in the conduct of the previous Armenian elections marred by serious irregularities. Earlier this month, Abrahamian was appointed as HHK campaign manager.
The ruling party, which makes no secret of its intention to again get the largest number of seats in parliament, is already facing opposition accusations of foul play. Reports in the Armenian press have likewise alleged that the Republicans are illegally using their grip on most central and local governments for that purpose. Party officials deny the allegations.