YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Robert Kocharian threatened late Monday to "strictly punish" law-enforcement officials who attempt to affect the outcome of this Sunday’s local elections. He said holding free and fair elections is vital to restoring public trust in the democratic process and improving Armenia’s image abroad.
"I explicitly forbid you from helping any candidate and partaking in the election campaign. You may express your personal attitude toward a particular candidate only by voting," Kocharian told several dozen top government officials. Among them were Armenia’s prosecutor-general and the interior and national security ministers.
In the televised gathering–he said "These elections are extremely important for the country–both in terms of [international] reaction and popular faith in fair elections. They [the elections] must create a positive background for further elections," referring to the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for February and May next year.
The October 20 polls will be held in 654 of the 930 Armenian communities–including the second largest city of Gyumri–and in several administrative districts in Yerevan. The previous nationwide local polls took place three years ago and were described as "free and fair" by a Council of Europe monitoring group.
Kocharian said that law-enforcement agencies–often responsible for chronic vote irregularities in Armenia–must be on their guard against "any attempts to destabilize the country." He told government-appointed provincial governors–who also attended Monday’s meeting–to display "extreme restraint" and avoid any involvement in the electoral battles.
The chairman of the Central Election Commission–Artak Sahradian–warned local government chiefs last week that voter registration in many constituencies are still inaccurate and may disrupt local elections unless they are quickly corrected.
According to Kocharian–Armenian courts will be open on Sunday to allow those citizens whose names were not included in voter lists to cast their ballots.