Opposition and civil society groups in Armenia do not trust government pledges to make the upcoming parliamentary elections free and fair, according to officials from the Organization and Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Nicola Schmidt, deputy head of an election department at the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), and Raul Lucian Muresan, an ODIHR election expert, visited Yerevan on a “needs assessment mission” three weeks ago. They met with senior government officials, political party leaders and civic campaigners to discuss preparations for the elections due in May and practical modalities of their observation by the OSCE.
In a report released this week, Schmidt and Muresan recommended that the OSCE/ODIHR deploy about 300 observers for the vote after receiving a formal invitation from the Armenian government. “The OSCE/ODIHR has been informed by the authorities that a timely invitation will be forthcoming once the election has been formally announced,” the say said.
A similar number of monitors from OSCE member states were deployed during Armenia’s previous presidential and parliamentary elections. Their findings were crucial for the international legitimacy of those polls.
Schmidt and Muresan said all of their interlocutors in Yerevan were in favor of an OSCE vote-monitoring mission for the May elections. “ODIHR’s presence was regarded as essential for the perception of the electoral process,” says their report. “This is due to the lack of confidence expressed by many OSCE/ODIHR [needs assessment mission] interlocutors, especially from the opposition and civil society, in the process and in the electoral administration, as well as accusations of media bias and possible manipulations, including on election day.”
“Political parties from the government and the opposition both expressed their lack of trust towards each other. Particularly noticeable was the distrust expressed by many interlocutors in the stated objective of the authorities to conduct a transparent and fair election process,” adds the report.
The OSCE representatives also praised Armenia’s Electoral Code amended last year, saying that it “provides a good basis for the conduct of democratic elections.”
Armenia’s leading opposition groups take a different view, having repeatedly demanded more radical changes in the code. The government has rejected those demands.
The ODIHR mission report says nothing about changes in the scale and methodology of OSCE vote monitoring advocated by the opposition and the Armenian National Congress (HAK) in particular.
The HAK believes that the mostly Western observers should be present in all of Armenia’s 2,000 or so polling stations on election day. It says that if the OSCE and other European institutions are unable to send such a big observer mission they should at least make sure that their monitors stay in the same polling stations throughout the voting and ballot counting process, rather than shuttle between various electoral precincts.
“If that is not done, it will mean they are ready to turn a blind eye to vote falsifications,” Levon Zurabian, an HAK leader, warned recently.