US Election Monitors Give Recent Armenian Election and Referendum Mixed Review
In the May 25 parliamentary vote the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) retained its dominant role in government. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archives]. Meanwhile, the constitutional referendum failed to secure sufficient popular backing. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) held a briefing of its monitoring mission June 9 at the organization's Washington, DC office. The mission's view of the parliamentary vote largely coincided with the initial conclusions of other monitoring missions, including that of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"It was clear to everyone on our team that there had been some improvement from the presidential elections, but we still all agreed that this election did not meet the test of a free and fair democratic election," said Jeanne Shaheen, a former governor of New Hampshire and leader of the NDI observer delegation. [For background on the Armenian presidential election see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Shaheen whose team included Alexander Longolius, former president pro tem of the Berlin House of Representatives, Oleh Rybachuk, a Ukrainian MP, and Patrick Merloe, NDI senior associate and director of programs expressed frustration with local authorities. "People seemed to have a lack of faith in the ability of poll workers to conduct a free and fair election," she said.
Alec Frick, NDI's Yerevan-based director of the Political Parties program, pointed out that a significant number of wealthy entrepreneurs won parliament seats, going on to say that many won first-past-the-post contests by offering "services, money and goods to voters in exchange for their votes."
The parliamentary vote's most positive development concerned media coverage, Frick added. "While state-run and private media continued to provide positive coverage for the president and the ruling party, they did not attack the opposition," he said. "Mostly, they ignored the opposition."
NDI officials reserved their most severe criticism for the government's handling of the referendum. Ambassador Nelson Ledsky, NDI's regional director for Eurasia, charged Armenia officials with "deliberate manipulation" to ensure defeat of the constitutional referendum.
The referendum, announced just seven weeks prior to the election, would have made changes to the country's constitution to conform with requirements stipulated by the Council of Europe, of which Armenia is a member. Local observers say that even though President Robert Kocharian oversaw the preparation of the proposed constitutional amendments, his administration did little to actively promote a "yes" vote. An NDI preliminary statement, released in late May, complained about a lack of government effort in promoting awareness of the constitutional amendments, citing a lack of educational programming on state media.
Ledsky alleged that the referendum was orchestrated "mechanically, deliberately and nastily by the government of Armenia so as to tell the European community:
Afshin Molavi is a Washington-based journalist who specializes in Iranian and Caucasus affairs.