The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe officially launched on Friday yet another vote monitoring mission in Armenia that should essentially determine the international legitimacy of next month’s Armenian presidential election.
Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini of Switzerland has been named by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to lead what will be the most important international team tasked with assessing the freedom and fairness of the February 18 vote. It will comprise 13 election experts and 24 long-term and some 250 short-term observers.
Tagliavini expressed hope that “the election goes well” as she announced the start of the monitoring process at a news conference in Yerevan. “For us it is important that the process goes according to international standards and in compliance with Armenia’s commitments to the OSCE and Armenian laws,” she said.
“We will only be looking at facts. We are interested in the process, not in the result of the election,” added the Swiss diplomat, who led a European Union inquiry into the causes of the 2008 Russian-Georgian war.
President Serzh Sarkisian, who is seeking a second term in office, and other Armenian government officials have pledged to do their best to ensure that the upcoming election is the most democratic in the country’s history.
Tagliavini has already met with the Tigran Mukuchian, the chairman of Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC), and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian to discuss elections preparations. She said she and other senior mission officials will also meet with presidential candidates, leaders of the country’s main political groups and civil society members ahead of the presidential ballot.
The OSCE/ODIHR also monitored Armenia’s last parliamentary elections held in May. Its observation mission gave a mixed assessment of the election conduct, praising the election campaign but criticizing voting in a “considerable” number of polling stations.
The United States and the European Union have reacted more positively to the Armenian authorities’ handling of the May polls denounced as fraudulent by the Armenian opposition. They have said they hope that the presidential election will be even more democratic. In that regard, EU leaders have urged Yerevan to address OSCE observers’ recommendations in time for the ballot.
Tagliavini said that the authorities have already done that. “But our office was of the opinion that this should not be implemented so close to the February 2013 presidential election,” she said.
The previous OSCE/ODIHR mission recommended the authorities to toughen legal punishment for vote buying and other irregularities and make voter lists more accurate.
Armenia’s leading opposition forces have dismissed government assurances regarding the election conduct. Two of them -- the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) -- have decided not to field or endorse any presidential candidates, saying that the vote will not be free and fair.
The election is also effectively boycotted by the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest in parliament. Its wealthy leader, Gagik Tsarukian, was tipped to mount a strong challenge to Sarkisian but unexpectedly withdrew from the race last month.
Many local observers believe that the incumbent president will have no trouble securing his reelection. Some of them fear that Armenia will hold the least competitive national election in its post-Soviet history.
Tagliavini declined to comment on these fears. She said that she plans to meet with top representatives of the BHK, the HAK and Dashnaktsutyun and that their views will be cited in her mission’s election report.