By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia will ask the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor its upcoming presidential election despite misgivings about the work of Western-led observer missions, officials in Yerevan said on Tuesday.
“We have long cooperated with the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and maintain contacts with its representatives with regard to election monitoring,” Vladimir Karapetian, the Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman, told RFE/RL.
“We will extend an invitation to observe the presidential elections in due course,” he said.
Armenia joined Russia, Belarus and four Central Asian states last October in demanding serious restrictions on the activities of mainly Western observers acting under the aegis of the OSCE/ODIHR. Under their Russian-drafted proposals submitted to the OSCE, observer missions deployed in OSCE member states would comprise no more than 50 people and would be barred from assessing the conduct of a particular election before the announcement of its official results.
Although the OSCE has criticized as deeply flawed virtually all elections held in Armenia until now, Yerevan’s decision to back the Russian proposals was somewhat unexpected given Western observers largely positive assessment of last May’s Armenian parliamentary polls. The ODIHR said it is bewildered by the move.
Under Armenian law, international observer missions can be invited by the president of the republic, the government, the Foreign Ministry, the National Assembly and the Central Election Commission (CEC). The CEC chairman, Garegin Azarian, said on Tuesday that the electoral authority will only ask the OSCE to dispatch short-term observers, who only watch polling and the vote count. It is the Foreign Ministry that will invite long-term observers, he said.
The presidential election slated for February 19 is also expected to monitored by parliamentarians from the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union. The leadership of the Armenian parliament will extend formal invitations to them soon, a spokeswoman for the National Assembly said.
The ODIHR, meanwhile, said it is already making preparations for Armenian vote monitoring. A spokeswoman for the Warsaw-based watchdog, Urdur Gunnarsdottir, told RFE/RL that an ODIHR has sent a “needs assessment” team to Yerevan and is awaiting its report on how to organize the process. She could not say when the observer mission will likely kick off its work in Armenia.