The Armenian authorities have angrily rejected serious concerns over the pre-election situation in Armenia that were expressed last week by lawmakers representing the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE).
The five PACE members visited Yerevan to assess ongoing preparations for the February 18 presidential election. They were an advance team of 22 monitors that are due to be deployed by the Strasbourg-based organization on election day.
Speaking at a news conference last Thursday, the visiting European parliamentarians expressed serious concern at what they described as widespread public apathy about the ballot. They linked that with the decision by most of the country’s leading opposition forces not to field any presidential candidates.
“That decision limited voters’ choice, resulting in an unfortunate situation,” said Karin Woldseth, head of the PACE monitoring team. “The upcoming elections are already overshadowed by widespread indifference and distrust.”
Woldseth also claimed that Armenia’s national voter lists remain highly inaccurate despite repeated government pledges to sort them out. At the same time, the PACE monitors praised a number of government measures aimed at ensuring the proper conduct of the election.
Davit Harutiunian, a senior pro-government lawmaker heading the Armenian delegation at the PACE, rejected the criticism as “shocking” and baseless. In a weekend letter to the PACE leadership in Strasbourg, Harutiunian said the monitors decided to criticize the Armenian voter lists even before meeting with senior police officials in Yerevan in charge of drawing up and maintaining the registry. He argued that the lists were publicized a week ago, giving political groups and ordinary citizens enough time to check their accuracy.
Harutiunian also insisted that the upcoming election will be as competitive as the previous ones. He said the three main opposition candidates in the race are “influential politicians” representing different segments of the Armenian opposition.