The head of the European Union mission in Armenia, Piotr Switalski, dismissed on Tuesday the Armenian authorities’ angry reaction to his public criticism of the conduct of the country’s recent parliamentary elections.
Switalski questioned on June 15 the “credibility” of the government-controlled Central Election Commission (CEC), saying that it should be expanded to comprise civil society representatives. He also decried vote buying and other irregularities reported during the April 2 elections and suggested that the country’s complicated electoral system should be revised.
Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian and the ruling Republican Party (HHK) responded by accusing Switalski of meddling in Armenia’s internal affairs.
Switalski denied the accusations, saying that his “friendly and constructive” comments were in tune with earlier statements made by other European officials. “There are issues where we, as the European Union, not only have the right but also the duty to speak up,” he told a news conference. “We do it because our Armenian partners accepted certain arrangements for our engagement.”
The envoy argued that proper conduct of elections is among political reforms which the Armenian authorities undertook to implement in return for financial assistance provided by the EU. “These financing agreements are not imposed,” he said. “They are negotiated and agreed upon by the two sides.”
Early this year, the EU provided the Armenian authorities with more than $7 million for the purchase of special electronic equipment used during the parliamentary elections. In her official reaction to the vote, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the voter authentication devices and web cameras installed in Armenian polling stations minimized serious fraud such as multiple voting.
An April 4 statement by Mogherini’s spokesperson deplored “credible information about vote-buying” and voter intimidation reported by European election observers. Still, it concluded that the official election result, which gave a landslide victory to the ruling HHK, “reflects the overall will of the Armenian people.”
Switalski similarly said that the EU funding led to “some improvements” in the electoral process. “We live in an interconnected world,” the diplomat went on. “We must accept that there are mechanisms, conventions, treaties, working arrangements which enable others to express their views on what happens in one or another country.”
“We are very glad that so many ordinary Armenians understand this without my lectures or other educational efforts. And I’m not surprised because Armenians … perfectly understand that threats to [their country’s] sovereignty lie somewhere else, and not in our friendly support,” he stressed without elaborating.
Meanwhile, a senior HHK figure, Armen Ashotian, stood by the government criticism of Switalski’s comments and insisted that the legislative polls were democratic. “Everyone could point to Europeans’ growing skepticism towards European institutions,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But no Armenian official would allow themselves to talk about that with their European partners because they consider challenges facing European institutions an internal European affair.”
“I would warn against setting an artificial election agenda now because we have already written and turned that page together,” he said. “So let’s talk about the future and our tasks ahead, instead of revising something that is already a political reality.”
Ashotian, who chairs the Armenian parliament’s foreign relations committee, also expressed confidence that the public spat will not undermine Yerevan’s efforts to forge closer ties with the EU. The upcoming signing of a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement will raise the EU-Armenia relationship to “a new level,” he said.
The agreement will also demonstrate that “it’s possible to build the European type of a state even in the Eurasian economic area,” claimed Ashotian.