The Elections Observation Missions of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (ODIHR) have become a regular feature of the electoral process on the European continent, and a model for others world-wide. The Missions, consisting of a core team and a handful of long term observers deploy a month ahead of the poll and are joined for election-day by several hundred short term observers and delegations from the Parliamentary Assemblies of the continent’s leading institutions. Whilst not perfect, the ODIHR model remains the best.
One feature that has often caused concern is the way that these missions report their findings. It has now been a long standing habit (it would be wrong to call it anything else), for the Election Observation Missions to issue two interim reports prior to election-day. They are often very technical in nature. On election day the Mission then joins up with the parliamentary delegations from the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, sometimes the NATO PA and until recently with the OSCE’s own Parliamentary Assembly, for the day-after Press Conference, usually held at 3.00 or 4.00 in the afternoon. This has traditionally been the most high profile part of the process. The atmosphere is usually highly charged, the journalists coming from overseas to cover the election would still be around, and everybody is waiting for the key phrase or phrases which would indicate that the election has been deemed free and/or fair, although in recent years the wording has become increasingly more ambiguous. The Parliamentarians then leave as quickly as they had arrived, and the ODIHR mission lingers on in-country for a while to observe the post-election environment. Rarely, as was the case in Armenia after the 2008 Presidential election and again this month, it issues a third interim report. The Mission then departs and two months after the Mission issues a final report.
Many feel that these habits are due for review. ODIHR, in an effort one suspects to insulate itself from the pressures of its political masters – the OSCE member states represented by the Permanent Council in Vienna, increasingly depicts its work and its reports as “technical”, checking performance against compliance. They may very well be, but there is no denying that the consequences of the reports are political, and the way that ODIHR is communicating its findings is, in that sense, not very efficient. More…
Unofficial results in the Armenian Elections show a victory for the incumbent Serzh Sargsyan, with around 59% of the votes cast. Raffi Hovhanessian is runner up with around 37%
The 6th presidential Election of independent Armenia was held on Monday 18th February 2013. There was never any doubt who was going to win this election, but candidates, voters, election officials, journalists and observers – local and international, went through the necessary motions to conduct what technically was a good election ritual. A few of the seven candidates did not play the game according to the established rules and there was, a still unexplained, attempt on the life of another. One of the original eight candidates registered pulled out completely. The process was calm, peaceful, efficient and largely transparent. But while we always knew who the winner of this election was going to be, the question of who were going to be the losers was not always that clear. More…
Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev signing the Helsinki Final Act in August 1975. The Act made the subject of human rights a matter of legitimate concern to all.
Over the last few weeks it has become common to hear officials in Azerbaijan, and to a lesser extent in Armenia, complaining that the European Union is interfering in the internal affairs of their countries. This happens whenever EU officials or diplomats raise issues connected with human rights, rule of law and free elections. The chorus started first with some pro government journalists and commentators, but by last week senior officials in the two countries had joined the fray.
These officials clearly do not understand the processes that have been going on in Europe in the last forty years. The historic Helsinki Final Act adopted by all the European states (with the exception of Albania) in 1975 laid the foundation of a new European order which recognised the indivisibility of security and that human rights on the continent were not simply an internal matter but a matter of legitimate concern for all. More…
Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian.
The Foreign Minister of Armenia, Edward Nalbandian led a chorus of criticism against views expressed by diplomats from EU member states ahead of the presidential elections. The diplomats, namely British Ambassador Katharine Leach and Polish Ambassador Zdzisław Raczyski’s had made mild criticisms and expressed hope for free and fair elections. Pro government politicians lined up to criticise the two Ambassadors and accusing them of interfering in internal affairs. The Foreign Minister then weighed in suggesting that the two Ambassadors had crossed the boundaries of diplomatic practise, with Nalbandian citing his experience as long time Armenian Ambassador to France to show how diplomacy should be done. Diplomatic circles in Yerevan are surprised by the audacity of this criticism given that Armenian diplomats in France, the United States and other countries are often involved in supporting candidates who are sympathetic to pro Armenian issues in the countries they are accredited to, whilst the Polish and British diplomats in Tbilisi were simply making comments about how the democratic process could be consolidated. More…
Dennis Sammut looks back at the life of one of the most outstanding politicians in the Caucasus in modern times.
On Sunday, 3rd February Georgia marked the 8th anniversary of the death in mysterious circumstances of Zurab Zhvania, a liberal and progressive politician who is best remembered for his work to establish the Georgian parliament as a credible and model institution, in the mid-1990s.
Zhvania started his political career as an environmental activist in the last years of the Soviet Union, and in the years of perestroika set up the Green Party of Georgia which became a focal point for many similarly minded young Georgian intellectuals. In 1992 he was appointed a member of the State Council, a body that had been created after the end of the 1991-2 civil war. Zhvania became an ally of Edward Shevardnadze after the latter returned from Moscow to head the State Council and lead Georgia out of the chaos in which it had found itself. In 1993 he became the head of the Citizens Union of Georgia, a broad based political force which aimed to support Shevardndze’s endeavours for reform and stability.
In November 1995 Zhvania was elected Chairman of the Georgian parliament. In a very short period of time he managed to introduce a parliamentary tradition in the post-Soviet country, justifiably earning for himself the title of father of the modern Georgian Parliament. He steered Georgia’s membership to the Council of Europe, which it joined in 1999, well ahead of its neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Georgian Parliament in this period was considered a model not only for other post-Soviet countries but for parliaments in other transition countries far beyond. He was well respected in European and North American political circles, as well as in the region for his visionary ideas that combined with astute pragmatism. His belief in Georgia’s European vocation was never at the exclusion of its Caucasian roots. More…
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, (centre), in military fatigues on the Nagorno-Karabakh frontline in 2012.
The incumbent Armenian President and favorite in next month’s Presidential election, Serzh Sargsyan, was born on 30 June 1954 in the then-Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, where he was an active member of the Komsomol Communist Youth organisation and Secretary of its local branch and later became Assistant to Genrikh Poghosyan, the First Secretary of the Nagorno-Karabakh Communist Party Regional Committee.
During 1972-1974, he served in the USSR armed forces. In 1979, he graduated from the Philological Department of Yerevan State University.
As Head of the Nagorno-Karabakh self-defence forces Committee from 1989-93 he was an active participant in the fighting with Azerbaijani forces that led to the region’s separation from Azerbaijan. In 1990, Serzh Sargsyan was elected as a deputy to the Supreme Council of Armenia. From 1993 to 1995, he was the Minister of Defence of the Republic of Armenia. From 1995 to 1996, he was the Head of the Republic of Armenia State Security Department and, later, the Minister of National Security. From 1996 to 1999, he was the Republic of Armenia Minister of Interior and National Security. In this position he was instrumental in helping his old friend from Nagorno-Karabakh, Robert Kocharian, who was then the President of the territory, to move to Yerevan where he eventually became President after President Levon Ter Petrosyan was forced to resign.
Under Kocharian, Sargsyan served as Minister of Defence and Secretary of the National Security Council and was appointed Prime Minister in 2007. After Kocharian second term ended Sargsyan contested the 2008 election which he won in the second round, amidst opposition claims of election fraud.
Those who have observed Serzh Sargsyan political career over the last two decades say that he is essentially a “soviet style military man who has understood the need for reform”. He has been able to manage expertly the rough and tumble of Armenia political life, managing first the transition from Ter Petrosyan to Kocharian, and later his own transition to the Presidency. He is well aware of Armenia’s challenges and limitations and is subsequently a pragmatist. When in 2007 he emerged from the relative shadow of appointments in the military and security sides of government to become Prime Minister, he embraced reform as a necessity. He pursued it cautiously but not without vigor. This has also been the hallmark of his presidency since 2008. More…