By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Emil Danielyan
A visiting senior official from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) urged Armenia’s leadership Wednesday to ensure that the upcoming presidential elections mark an improvement over last May’s parliamentary polls.
Georges Colombier, a rapporteur for a PACE body monitoring Armenia’s compliance with its membership commitments to the Strasbourg-based organization, said the February 19 elections should be markedly different from the weekend election to Russia’s State Duma strongly criticized by the West. “I hope that they will not take place the way they did in Russia,” he said.
Preparations for the vote were high on the agenda of Colombier’s talks with President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and representatives of the country’s main political parties.
“I told the prime minister and my other interlocutors this morning that the presidential elections must be conducted better than the parliamentary elections of May 2007 were,” the PACE official told reporters before his meeting with Kocharian. “Those elections were not handled badly. But everything must be done to make the February 19 elections more democratic.”
The May elections were found to be largely democratic by observers from the PACE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Parliament. Their findings gave a massive boost to the international legitimacy of the governing Republican Party’s landslide victory in the polls.
Kocharian was cited by his office as telling Colombier that his administration is determined to hold “elections meeting international standards.” Similar assurances were apparently given by Sarkisian as well.
The upcoming vote was also a key theme of Sarkisian’s lunch meeting on Wednesday with the Yerevan-based ambassadors of leading European Union member states. The Armenian government’s press office released no details of the meeting.
The Armenian premier also discussed preparations for the presidential election at a separate meeting with the U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, Joseph Pennington, on Tuesday. A government statement cited Pennington as saying that the U.S. government is ready to fund a first-ever exit poll in Armenia’s history that would be overseen by the U.S. non-governmental International Republican Institute (IRI). Sarkisian welcomed the idea, the statement said.
It was not clear who will do the crucial fieldwork for the poll. The U.S. government and the IRI have until now commissioned such work from the Armenian Sociological Association (ASA), which is run by a pro-government pollster. The findings of pre-election opinion polls conducted by the ASA in the past have usually coincided with official vote results rejected as fraudulent by the Armenian opposition.