She said the approaching parliamentary and presidential elections in the country will be an opportunity for the Armenian government to improve its democracy and human rights record and thus again qualify for the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program.
The U.S. government approved $236 million worth of MCA assistance to Armenia in 2006 to finance a rural development plan submitted by Yerevan. In June 2008, Washington scrapped a $67 million segment of the aid package, which envisaged the reconstruction of hundreds of kilometers of rural roads.
The decision was widely attributed to a disputed presidential election held in February 2008 and a harsh government crackdown on the Armenian opposition that followed it.
The aid cut did not affect the rest of the MCA funding which is being mainly channeled into Armenia’s battered irrigation networks. Their ongoing refurbishment is due to be completed this September.
Yovanovitch and Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian visited on Friday the central Aragatsotn province to inspect local irrigation canals that have been rehabilitated with MCA funds. They also met with farmers that have received training as part of the same scheme.
“We hope that this program has made and will continue to make a real impact on the rural community in terms of increased wealth,” Yovanovitch told journalists there.
The U.S. diplomat made clear that Yerevan can not apply for more MCA aid for the time being. “Perhaps at some point in the future, there might be a possibility,” she said. “Every year, every country is reviewed for eligibility. At this point, Armenia is not eligible for a second compact due to where it stands on the [MCA] indicators.”
Yovanovitch specified that President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration should, among other things, hold more democratic elections. “As Armenia enters into an election cycle, with parliamentary elections next year and presidential elections the year after, there is an opportunity to boost these indicators,” she said.
“Obviously, conduct on the day of elections is an important thing but so is freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, the many other things that go into general good governance,” she added.
Yovanovitch urged the Armenian authorities to hold free elections, respect civil liberties and embark on other “deep and difficult” reforms in a recent speech at Yerevan State University. In particular, she stressed the importance of “ensuring that peaceful, lawful assemblies will not be harassed or broken up.”