President Serzh Sarkisian has told the leaders of Europe’s main center-right political parties that his administration is committed to turning Armenia into a European-style democracy.
Addressing a congress of the European People’s Party (EPP) in Malta on Wednesday, Sarkisian also reiterated that the Armenian authorities will do their best to ensure that Sunday’s parliamentary elections are free and fair.
“Given the specificities of the country’s development, we have set ourselves the goal of taking a resolute step towards building a European model of democracy and reinforcing democratic institutions,” he declared.
“We are committed and doing everything to hold elections conforming to high international standards,” he said.
Under a landmark deal with the Armenian opposition, Sarkisian’s government enacted last fall a set of legal amendments meant to prevent serious fraud in the April 2 parliamentary elections. The European Union and the United States hailed those changes, allocating about $10 million for the purchase of anti-fraud electronic equipment that will be installed in Armenian polling stations.
While acknowledging the importance of the amendments, Armenian opposition groups say that Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) is illegally using government resources and buying votes to win the polls. The HHK denies that.
The HHK, which has the status of an EPP “observer member,” claimed to have been endorsed by Joseph Daul, the EPP president, circulating a translated video message from him earlier this month.
The reported endorsement prompted strong criticism from opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian, whose Zharangutyun (Heritage) party is also an EEP observer member. “If the message is truly yours, it translates into a flagrant self-breach of European moral and legal benchmarks,” he wrote to Daul last week.
“You have not let Heritage down. You have let down the Armenian voter, civil society, the EPP and its system of values, the very definition and meaning of what we have known as Europe,” charged Hovannisian.
Sarkisian has sought to deepen Armenia’s ties with the EU even after unexpectedly deciding to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union in 2013. Armenian and EU officials initialed an EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in Yerevan on March 21.
In his speech at the EPP congress, Sarkisian said the agreement will likely be signed during the EU’s next Eastern Partnership summit due in November.