The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe officially launched on Tuesday what will be the largest and most important international monitoring mission for Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections.
The Norwegian head of the mission, Jan Petersen, said 14 election experts and 28 long-term observers from various OSCE member states have already arrived in Armenia to monitor unfolding preparations for the April 2 elections. They are expected to be joined by around 250 mainly Western short-term observers on the eve of the vote, he said.
The mission deployed by the OSCE’s Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) will release, jointly with lawmakers representing the OSCE and the Council of Europe, its preliminary findings on April 3. They will be crucial for the international legitimacy of the polls to be held one year before President Serzh Sarkisian completes final term in office.
U.S. and European Union assessments of the previous Armenian parliamentary and presidential elections reflected reports released by OSCE/ODIHR observer missions. The latter reported serious irregularities on virtually all those occasions.
“We are impartial and we are not a player,” Petersen told a news conference in Yerevan. He stressed that his mission is only tasked with assessing the conduct of the upcoming elections and its conformity with international standards.
Petersen, 70, served as Norway’s foreign minister from 2001-2005, both before and after holding a seat in the Norwegian parliament. He headed OSCE/ODIHR election monitoring missions that were deployed in Moldova in 2014 and Macedonia and Russia last year.
Petersen declined to comment on the pre-election situation in Armenia or say to what extent the Armenian authorities have addressed recommendations made by OSCE observers in the past. He said his mission will release an interim report on the election campaign in March.
Five political parties and four blocs will be vying for at least 101 seats in Armenia’s next parliament on April 2. The authorities in Yerevan have repeatedly pledged to ensure that the polls are democratic.
Under a landmark deal reached with the Armenian opposition, the authorities enacted late last year a set of amendments to the Electoral Code aimed at preventing serious fraud, notably multiple voting by government loyalists. In particular, they agreed to introduce electronic verification of voters’ identity and live online broadcasts of voting in the majority of polling stations.