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European Observers ‘Deeply Concerned’ About Yerevan Poll Conduct


Armenia -- Opposition supporters march in Yerevan on May 29, 2009.

Observers from the Council of Europe expressed “deep concern” about the conduct of Sunday’s municipal elections in Yerevan as campaigning for them officially drew to a close on Friday.

The Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (CLRAE) has deployed the largest international mission to monitor the polls that represent the most serious test of President Serzh Sarkisian’s power since he took office in April last year.

In a written statement, the CLRAE mission said that after holding a series of meetings with government officials, election candidates and the media it is seriously concerned about “various, repeated reports of irregularities, and in particular intimidation tactics during the election campaign.”

“The delegation has accordingly requested, on 29 May, a further meeting with Armen Gevorgian, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Territorial Development, and Garegin Azarian, Chair of the Central Electoral Commission, to scrutinize the situation and the lawfulness of the electoral procedures,” said the statement.

Although the delegation did not elaborate on its concerns, they are clearly based on various vote irregularities that have been alleged by the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) throughout the month-long election campaign. A senior HAK coordinator, Levon Zurabian, welcomed the observers’ statement as an “unprecedented development” as the opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian again rallied thousands of supporters in Yerevan.

The statement was in sharp contrast with President Serzh Sarkisian’s positive assessment of the mayoral race. Speaking to journalists on Thursday, Sarkisian said all election contenders have enjoyed equal campaigning opportunities and impartial coverage by the mainly pro-government electronic media.

In a thinly veiled warning to the HAK, Sarkisian said political forces should not create “unnecessary tension” and should be “ready to accept the election results.”

HAK leaders insisted, however, that Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and its political allies plan to rig the ballot to prevent an opposition victory in Yerevan and urged supporters to again gather in downtown Yerevan on Monday. “The regime is completely pinning its hopes on vote falsifications,” said Zurabian.

“In the event of falsifying the elections, get ready for immediately bidding farewell to Serzh Sarkisian,” Ter-Petrosian told the enthusiastic crowd in his speech. He stressed at the same time that Sunday’s elections are “neither a fight of life or death, nor a last chance” for the Armenian opposition.

“Nothing will end with these elections,” said Ter-Petrosian. “On the contrary, everything is only beginning now.”

It thus remained unclear whether the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition plans to hold the kind of non-stop demonstrations that followed the disputed presidential election of February 2009. The ex-president said earlier this year that he will not seek to stage an-anti-government “revolution” in Armenia.

In his speech, Ter-Petrosian again accused Western powers of “tolerating repressions” committed by the Armenia government in return for Sarkisian’s concessions on Turkish-Armenian relations and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He revealed that Western diplomats have “rebuked” the HAK for its strong criticism of Sarkisian’s foreign policy and urged it not to hamper the ongoing Turkish-Armenian rapprochement and Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations.

“In order to prove that it is genuinely keen to contribute to the settlement of Turkish-Armenian relations and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the West must first of all prove that that it is genuinely interested in the establishment of full-fledged democracy in Armenia,” said the opposition leader.
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