Armenia’ government and two major opposition parties praised the United States on Tuesday for contributing funding to measures aimed at preventing possible fraud in upcoming Armenian parliamentary elections.
The U.S. government announced through its embassy in Yerevan on Monday that it will join European donors in financing the purchase of special equipment that will be installed in polling stations across the country. It will include, among other things, electronic machines to be used for verifying voters’ identity and thus preventing multiple voting.
The Armenian authorities agreed to take this and other anti-fraud measures as part of a landmark deal reached with three parliamentary opposition parties in September.
Levon Zurabian, the deputy chairman of one of those parties, the Armenian National Congress (HAK), said the U.S. Embassy statement suggests that Washington will very closely monitor the conduct of the elections due in April.
“They are giving quite large sums of money for the sake of free and fair elections,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “That means the donors providing that money cannot be indifferent. That means a more serious oversight and greater scrutiny of this whole [electoral] process.”
Zurabian claimed that the U.S. and other Western powers will revise their ties with Armenia if the April vote is marred by serious fraud. “If the elections do not live up to expectations, there will naturally be a reaction,” he said.
Naira Zohrabian, the chairwoman of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), another signatory to the September agreement, also hailed the U.S. statement. She said its sentence emphasizing that “the burden is on the government and its constituent institutions” to ensure that elections are democratic was a warning addressed to the authorities in Yerevan.
In Zohrabian’s words, the authorities have received a similar warning from the European Union. “I don’t think it’s accidental that the new EU-Armenia agreement will not be signed before the April elections because the elections could seriously change the nature of relations,” she claimed.
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) insisted, meanwhile, that President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration is committed to holding a democratic ballot. “We regard as positive our international partners’ interest in seeing the 2017 elections in Armenia really meet democratic standards,” the HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“For us, it’s better to get 5-10 percent less votes than to have doubts among voters about the fairness of the elections,” Sharmazanov said. “I am very serious: we need spotless, clean, democratic and competitive elections. That is why we have made so many concessions.”
Both the U.S. and the EU have criticized just about every presidential and parliamentary election held in Armenia to date.