A senior European Union diplomat stressed on Thursday the importance of the proper conduct of Armenia’s next parliamentary elections slated for April, saying that they should herald democratic change in the country.
Piotr Switalski, the head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, also expressed hope that the newly reshuffled Armenian government will follow through on its pledges to implement major economic reforms.
“The next elections will be very important,” he said, speaking at an economic forum in Yerevan. “In many ways, they will determine the country’s future. I am an optimist and believe in the bright and democratic future of Armenia.”
“Let’s hope that the next elections will be an important launching pad for the democratic future of Armenia,” added the diplomat.
With Armenia due to switch to the parliamentary system of government in 2018, the legislative elections will determine who will govern the country after President Serzh Sarkisian serves out his final term. Sarkisian and his Republican Party (HHK) say that they are committed to ensuring that the polls are free and fair.
Last month, the Sarkisian administration agreed to enact a number of major legal safeguards against vote rigging which had long been demanded by the Armenian opposition. Armenia’s parliament passed on Wednesday relevant amendments to the Electoral Code agreed by the HHK and three opposition parties.
Switalski reaffirmed the EU’s strong support for those amendments. “I think it’s a very good development for Armenia,” he said.
The EU has agreed to provide a large part of an estimated 9 million euros ($10 million) needed for the implementation of the Armenian government’s landmark deal with the parliamentary opposition. The sum will be mostly spent on the purchase of equipment required for live online broadcasts of voting and ballot counting in all polling stations.
Switalski also commented on the economic reform agenda of the recently appointed Prime Minister Karen Karapetian and his cabinet. “The immediate task is to remove the obstacles, hurdles and limitations for business activities in Armenia,” said the EU envoy. An improved investment climate would attract more foreign investment and spur the growth of domestic small and medium-sized enterprises, he added.
Switalski also called for a reform of Armenia’s tax and customs services and a liberalization of lucrative sectors of the economy controlled by a handful of wealthy businesspeople. “Armenia is seen as an economy controlled by mini-monopolies,” he said.