YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Monday began its observation mission for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Armenia–which will again put to the test Yerevan’s stated commitment to democracy–put into doubt by its handling of previous polls. The move coincided with the official start of the election campaign.
"Starting 26 April–approximately 15 long-term observers will be deployed throughout the country to monitor the election campaign and the administrative preparation–and assess the implementation of the new electoral code," an OSCE office in Yerevan said in a statement. The monitoring effort is led by the OSCE’s Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.
The statement said "the mission has requested the presence of some 150 short term observers" to monitor the voting process and ballot count when the polls open on May 30. The purpose of the mission–it said–is to "assess the election process in Armenia in relation to OSCE commitmen’s and the relevant Armenian legislation."
Successive elections in Armenia’since 1995 have all been criticized by the OSCE for reported fraud. An OSCE report said last year’s pre-term presidential election in Armenia fell short of the organization’s standards. Official figures gave victory to the then acting president Robert Kocharian.
Some opposition parties have already accused the authorities of planning massive fraud to maintain their control of parliament–needed to ensure a vote of confidence. Government officials have shrugged off the allegations–saying they will do their best to guarantee a clean vote.
Also likely to monitor the vote is the Council of Europe. Officials in the Council have said Armenia’s long coveted full membership in the human rights organization will be conditional on freedom and fairness of the polls.
More than 800 individual candidates and 21 political parties are vying for 131 seats in the next parliament. 75 seats will be contested in single-candidate constituencies–while the remaining 56 seats are reserved for the system of proportional representation. The electoral alliance of Armenia’s powerful Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and former Armenian Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchian is seen as the best placed to win the ballot. The bloc–called Miasnutyun (Unity)–will try to capitalize on Demirchian’s popularity and the defense minister’s control of many local administrations. The pro-government camp will also be represented by many candidates with no party affiliation. Of all opposition groups–the center-right National Democratic Union and Communist Party are expected to pose the strongest challenge to the Kocharian administration.