Election experts from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have formally asked the pan-European body to monitor Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections after meeting with Armenian government officials, opposition politicians and civil society members.
The OSCE’s election-monitoring arm, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), sent a “needs assessment mission” to Yerevan in late November in anticipation of an official Armenian invitation to observe the vote scheduled for April 2.
The ODIHR team met with senior officials from President Serzh Sarkisian’s staff, the Armenian ministries of justice and foreign affairs and the Central Election Commission as well as leaders of major Armenian political parties and civic activists before releasing a report on December 12.
“All OSCE/ODIHR NAM (needs assessment mission) interlocutors underscored the need for a large-scale OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission,” reads the report.
“Based on the findings of this report, the OSCE/ODIHR NAM recommends the deployment of an Election Observation Mission for the 2 April parliamentary elections, contingent upon the receipt of an official invitation from the Armenian authorities,” it says.
The ODIHR team specifically requested the deployment of 250 short-term and 24 long-term OSCE observers “in addition to a core team of experts.”
The OSCE has monitored the previous Armenian parliamentary and presidential elections with a similar number of mostly Western monitors. Their findings were central to the international legitimacy of those polls marred by opposition allegations of serious fraud.
The ODIHR report notes that the upcoming elections will be held under a new Armenian Electoral Code containing anti-fraud provisions that have long been demanded by the Armenian opposition. “Most OSCE/ODIHR NAM interlocutors largely welcomed the legal amendments, viewing it as a positive development in building public confidence ahead of the elections,” it says.
But, it cautions, they also voiced “a lack of confidence in the election administration’s impartiality and ability to efficiently administer new procedures.” Many of them, presumably opposition groups, criticized a new complicated system of proportional representation whereby Armenians will be voting not only for political parties but also concrete individuals affiliated with them.
“In addition, some opposition parties and civil society groups expressed concerns that the open lists at the district level could potentially exacerbate the abuse of state resources and vote-buying at the local level,” added the ODIHR mission.
The CEC chairman, Tigran Mukuchian, sought to allay such fears on Monday. He insisted that the new code enables opposition parties and observers to oversee the electoral process and prevent possible irregularities.
“An electoral system in itself cannot facilitate a particular [illegal] practice in one way or another,” Mukuchian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“I think that this [electoral system] will not cause confusion,” he said. “The key challenge here is to ensure that participants of the electoral process are properly informed.”
The ODIHR mission recommended that the OSCE election observers also pay particular attention to “potential abuse of state resources.”
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has long been accused by the opposition, media and civil society of illegally using its government levers to win local and national elections. HHK leaders have always denied that.