The United States and the European Union have praised the Armenian authorities’ handling of Monday’s presidential election, citing the generally positive findings of international vote monitors.
The EU’s foreign and security policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and commissioner for enlargement, Stefan Fuele, were especially encouraged by the election conduct, calling it a step forward.
“We welcome further progress made by the Armenian authorities in their efforts to hold these presidential elections in line with international standards, notably through improved administration of the electoral process, ensuring possibilities for candidates to campaign freely and better quality of the voter lists,” they said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
“At the same time, we expect a number of outstanding concerns to be followed up appropriately in the future, including reported instances of partiality by public servants, claims of misuse of administrative resources, unclear interpretation of campaign financing provisions and cases of pressure on voters,” the statement added, echoing the conclusions of a preliminary report released by the Western observers on Tuesday.
The 300-strong observer mission was mostly deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It also comprised lawmakers from the EU and the Council of Europe.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, Victoria Nuland, endorsed the mission’s largely positive verdict as she voiced U.S. reaction to the ballot, official results of which gave President Serzh Sarkisian a second five-year term.
“We support the conclusions of the OSCE/ODIHR observer mission … that the elections were generally well-administered and characterized by a respect for fundamental freedoms, including those of assembly and expression,” Nuland told a news briefing in Washington late on Tuesday.
Nuland also noted misuse of government resources by Sarkisian loyalists, their “undue interference” in the voting process and other irregularities reported by the observers. “But in general, election day was calm and orderly,” added the U.S. official.
The EU and U.S. reactions were a further boost for the international legitimacy of Sarkisian’s reelection, which the main opposition candidate, Raffi Hovannisian, has rejected as fraudulent. They should also pave the way for Armenia’s deeper integration with the EU.
EU officials have stressed in recent months that closer ties with the 27-nation bloc sought by the Sarkisian administration are contingent on the freedom and fairness of the presidential election. They have implied that it is also essential for the holding of an unprecedented conference of Armenia’s foreign donors planned by the EU.
“It is critically important that the next presidential elections are impeccable,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said after talks with Sarkisian in Yerevan last December. The Armenian president assured Barroso that his government is committed to holding polls “meeting the highest international standards.”
U.S. officials have also stressed the importance of a clean vote. “Our hope is that these elections will become the new benchmark for [Armenian] elections in the future,” John Heffern, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, said last month.