Western monitors representing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reaffirmed on Tuesday their cautious assessment of Armenia’s recent parliamentary elections, praising the election campaign but criticizing voting in a “considerable” number of polling stations.
In its final report, the largest international vote-monitoring mission deployed in the country by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) again avoided concluding whether the May 6 elections were democratic.
“The voting process was orderly and well organized in the large majority of polling stations observed,” says the report. “However, international observers assessed voting negatively in nine per cent of polling stations, which is considerable. This assessment was mainly due to organizational problems, undue interference in the process, generally by proxies, and cases of serious violations, including intimidation of voters.”
The ODIHR mission also negatively assessed one fifth of vote counts observed by its more than 200 members. But it reported only “isolated cases of serious violations” there.
The mission further noted a “competitive, vibrant and largely peaceful campaign” that preceded the polls and commended the Armenian media for generally providing “unbiased news coverage of contestants.” But it criticized “misuse of administrative resources” by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the official election winner, and other pro-government forces.
Giving more weight to opposition allegations of vote buying, the observers also accused the HHK, the official election winner, and its coalition partner, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), of violating legal provisions that ban election contenders from providing goods and services to voters.
As was the case during the release of their preliminary findings on May 7, the observers did not to clarify whether these and other reported violations influenced the official vote results rejected as fraudulent by the Armenian opposition. Nor did they say, in contrast to the OSCE/ODIHR’s past election verdicts, whether the vote met democratic standards.
Armenia’s previous legislative polls held in May 2007 were judged by the OSCE to have been held “largely in accordance with international standards for democratic elections.” Western monitors gave a similar assessment of the Armenian presidential election of February 2008, which was marred by fraud allegations and a deadly government crackdown on the opposition.
The Armenian authorities made no secret of their hopes to secure an even more positive international verdict on the latest ballot. President Serzh Sarkisian and other top officials repeatedly pledged to do their best to hold the most democratic election in the country’s history.
Despite failing to get explicitly high marks from the OSCE/ODIHR mission, the Sarkisian administration has earned praise from both the European Union and the United States. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, spoke on May 8 of “progress towards more transparent and more competitive elections” in Armenia. For her part, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed hope that the next Armenian election will be “even better” when she visited Yerevan earlier this month.