“The authorities of the Republic of Armenia are determined to transform registered progress into a firm trend and to hold free, fair, transparent and democratic presidential elections,” announced Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan at the European People’s Party (EPP) Conference held in Bucharest, Romania on 17 October.
Referring to the positive assessment of the May 2012 parliamentary elections, which were considered to be “the best since independence” by international observers, the President, expressed his plan that Armenia will build on the recommendations suggested by the international community. Sargsyan explained to his audience that in order to achieve free, fair, transparent and democratic presidential elections next February, the Armenian authorities are “conducting preliminary works stemming from the conclusions and proposals of the OSCE/ODIHR.”
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) though welcoming the improvements experienced in Armenia during the spring’s parliamentary elections nevertheless had several pressing recommendations for the South Caucasus country. These included: ensuring greater respect for the free political will of citizens by refraining from political pressure and vote-buying; the need to increase public trust in the electoral administration and authorities; enhancing the authority of the Central Election Commission; further improving the accuracy of the voters’ list; greater enforcement of sanctions against individuals who commit election-related crimes; as well as guaranteeing due process for elections related crimes, amongst other recommendations. “Needless to say, this time again we expect active participation of the international observers,” added the President.
His remarks come at a time when a prominent leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party and former Foreign Minister, Vartan Oskanian, has been charged with money laundering – an allegation many in the country feel is politically motivated. Armenia’s last presidential elections were marred by accusations of vote rigging and were followed by violent clashes between police and demonstrators in which ten people died and hundreds were injured. The OCSE acknowledged that the 2008 Presidential election demonstrated “an insufficient regard for standards essential to democratic elections and devalued the overall election process.” The final report of the OSCE following the 2008 contest noted that particular concerns surrounded the vote count, transparency and accountability and the ineffectiveness of the complaints and appeals procedures.
The OSCE, as well as other electoral observer groups, have noted consistently that the legislative framework in place in Armenia is sufficient to hold fair and democratic elections, however, it is applied in a fashion that is inconsistent or partial, resulting in inefficiencies during the polling period that do not meet democratic standards. In his speech President Sargsyan also congratulated the European Union and its peoples on their receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, emphasizing their contribution to “the consolidation and strengthening of international peace.” Sargsyan explained that the history, culture and ambitions of Armenians make them “an indivisible part of the European civilisation.” He elaborated that it is Armenia’s shared Christian heritage and commitment to “basic liberties and to principles of democracy and human rights” that resulted in the membership of three Armenian political parties to the EPP.
At the beginning of 2012, three Armenian political parties, the Republican Party of Armenia, Country of Law and the Heritage Party gained observer member status in the EPP. Sargsyan lauded this accomplishment as “an important link for the revaluation of the European identity” for Armenians, viewing EPP membership as “an important element of our association process with Europe.
The Armenian President continued that Armenia has been a leader of the Eastern Partnership Programme of the European Union, highlighting that Armenia has recently abolished the visa requirement for EU citizens to visit the country. Sargsyan expressed his hope that this measure would result in thousands of EU citizens taking advantage of this new opportunity to visit Armenia. He also noted that Armenia has developed an agenda for governance reform, however, he also told his audience that Armenia will need significant financial contributions and support from the EU to implement these reforms.
Sargsyan also reinforced his country’s support for the OSCE Minsk Peace Process with regard to the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The EPP was founded as a centre-right pan-European party in 1976 by parties from Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Ireland and Italy. Today, the EPP is made up of 73 member parties from 40 countries across Europe, both EU and non-EU. It aims to ensure a “democratic, transparent and efficient Europe that is close to its citizens.” The EPP also aims to provide a “prosperous Europe through the promotion of a free market economy with a social conscious.”
Report compiled by Karina Gould with Armenian media sources