Armenia’s opposition Heritage party has harshly criticized President Serzh Sarkisian for treating with scorn its leader and brushing aside his proposals on improving the electoral process in the country and safeguarding it from potential fraud.
In a formal letter addressed to the head of state on November 21 Raffi Hovannisian challenged Sarkisian to prove his stated commitment to democratic elections by enacting more radical changes to electoral legislation and guaranteeing non-use of government resources by his majority Republican Party (HHK).
The U.S.-born politician, who served as independent Armenia’s first foreign minister in 1992, listed 15 concrete measures which he said would demonstrate the seriousness of the government’s pledges. In particular, he said, election commissions must be required to ink voters’ fingers and publicize lists of citizens who cast their ballots. In his letter, Hovannisian also said Sarkisian must rule out any use of government funds and properties by the HHK and guarantee that central and local government officials, civil servants and other public sector employees will no longer be under pressure to contribute to the ruling party’s electoral victory at any cost.
Sarkisian, who has repeatedly pledged during the recent period to “spare no effort” to ensure that parliamentary elections due in May are widely recognized as free and fair, later called into question the sincerity of the opposition leader’s intent to improve the electoral processes.
Talking to media on Saturday, Sarkisian said the Heritage party leader’s statement was not a considerate one and was not intended to improve political processes in Armenia, but “rather was done to compromise the process which has already been launched.”
“As you know, we got into gear, and our goal is to conduct very good elections. I would like to stress that the last two elections – presidential and parliamentary – were assessed by the international monitors as “mainly” corresponding to the international standards. Our goal is to eliminate the word “mainly,” i.e. to have elections which fully correspond to international standards. Toward that end, we have introduced multiple changes into the Election Code, which have been approved by our European and other partners. It means that we not only intend to, but are also making concrete steps,” said Sarkisian.
“I believe the objective of that statement was simply to besmirch and damage that process. However, I think that nothing can get in our way. We will be moving forward steadily and will not only conduct elections in the best possible way but also all political processes – calmly, quietly, making no fuss, paying no heed to those full of hatred, paying no heed, I wouldn’t say to their assessment, because they have no right to make assessments, but to their opinion. Disregarding their poison, disregarding their vicious goal, we will do our best to improve everything, and I trust everyone will have the opportunity, as they have today, to see it,” he added.
In response to the remarks made by the head of state the Heritage party issued a statement describing it as “a partisan and nationally unworthy incursion against Hovannisian the individual and first foreign minister of the Republic of Armenia, against Heritage and the entire opposition, and most notably upon the Armenian public and its average citizen.”
“This kind of demeanor and label-slinging is not compatible with the status of leader of the nation. Such a response demonstrates that the Armenian authorities do not forswear, and hence are not going to refrain from, the vicious practices of exploiting for partisan gain administrative and other public resources, establishing party monopolies over public and state capabilities, imposing unequal conditions for pre-electoral and electoral competition, coercing civil servants and public officials, encouraging fraud of the election process through the majoritarian system, manipulating voters’ lists especially with reference to absentees, and engaging the army and church in politics,” it said.
“It is precisely by these invidious methods that succeeding administrations have held elections over the past 16 years; they are the ones who have blackened and disparaged the country’s reputation and led it into national upheaval and bloodshed. We are deeply concerned that the president views the 2008 presidential elections in a positive light and claims that they largely corresponded with international standards. This implies that we might be headed for another [deadly post-election violence like that on] March 1 .”
Heritage indicated that Sarkisian “still can correct his error” and “instead of launching absurd and meaningless attacks confess the veracity of the vast majority of Raffi Hovannisian’s agenda items.”
“In letter and spirit he must take immediate measures to resolve these outstanding problems, to make the elections acceptable for all stakeholders, and to secure at long last de jure electoral results in the Republic of Armenia,” the party said.