The parliamentary elections held this month marked an important step in the democratization of Armenia’s political system, President Serzh Sarkisian insisted on Tuesday.
Sarkisian met with the Yerevan-based ambassadors of the United States, Russia and European nations to discuss the conduct of the April 2 vote which was won by his ruling Republican Party (HHK). The presidential press office said they also asked him questions about post-election moves planned by his administration.
“I would like to note that these elections highlighted the important progress that Armenia has made in democratization and state building,” the office quoted Sarkisian as telling the diplomats.
One of the reasons for that progress is that “in recent years we have managed to make the advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms irreversible,” he said. Political pluralism has already taken hold in the country, he added, citing the existence of a “viable civil society.”
“I’m not saying that we have no problems to solve here,” said Sarkisian. “We need to solve a lot of problems. What I’m saying is that the foundations are already strong and that we can construct on them the building needed by our people.”
The president also pointed to his government’s September 2016 agreement with the parliamentary opposition which led to the passage of several significant amendments to the Armenian Electoral Code. He went on to praise the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international bodies that sent hundreds of election observers to Armenia.
In their joint preliminary findings released on April 3, the observers representing the OSCE as well as the European Union and the Council of Europe said the Armenian authorities largely respected “fundamental freedoms” during the “well-administered” vote. But they also reported “credible information about vote-buying, and pressure on civil servants and employees of private companies.”
The EU and the U. S. echoed that conclusion, while cautiously praising the authorities’ handling of the polls. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said through a spokesperson on April 4 that the official vote results “reflect the overall will of the Armenian people.”
Virtually all Armenian opposition groups believe that the election outcome was primarily decided by large-scale vote buying. Some of them have also alleged other irregularities, demanding that the official results be annulled.
A spokesman for Sarkisian’s HHK admitted on April 5 that vote bribes were handed out. But he insisted that they did not have a “substantial impact” on the election outcome.
The HHK leadership has made clear that Prime Minister Karen Karapetian will retain his post for now. It remains unclear, however, whether Sarkisian plans to replace him after completing his second and final presidential term in April 2018. Armenia will switch to a parliamentary system of government at that time.
Sarkisian has so far said only that he would like to have a major “security” role in the country’s leadership after his presidency. His press office did not say whether he discussed his political future with the foreign envoys.