OSCE Official Discusses Armenian Elections

By Karine Kalantarian

Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
Jan 16 2007

The head of the election-monitoring arm of the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe wound up on Tuesday a two-day
visit to Armenia that focused on its unfolding preparations for
crucial parliamentary elections due in May.

Christian Strohal, director of the OSCE’s Warsaw-based Office for
Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), discussed the issue
in meetings with President Robert Kocharian, parliament speaker Tigran
Torosian and other Armenian officials.

Speaking to RFE/RL after a meeting with the chairman of the Central
Election Commission, Strohal said Armenia is "ready" to hold its
first-ever national election judged free and fair by the international
community. "But we shall see after the elections themselves," he said.

The Armenian parliament’s press service quoted the Austrian
diplomat as telling Torosian later in the day that there are "good
prerequisites" for making sure that the forthcoming vote meets
democratic standards. Torosian was quoted as saying that it should
mark a "turning point" in Armenia’s transition to democracy and
European integration.

OSCE/ODIHR observers described as undemocratic the previous
presidential and parliamentary elections in Armenia, giving weight to
opposition allegations of massive vote rigging. The United States and
the European Union have warned that a repeat of serious fraud would
jeopardize Yerevan’s efforts to build closer ties with the West.

Kocharian and other Armenian leaders have assured Western powers that
they will do their best to ensure proper conduct of the next polls.

Strohal’s talks in Yerevan specifically centered on their monitoring
by the OSCE. Visiting the Armenian capital last fall, the U.S.

ambassador at the OSCE headquarters in Vienna, Julie Finley, expressed
concern about the Kocharian administration’s failure so far to formally
invite the ODIHR to send long-term and short-term observer missions.

Both Torosian and other leaders of the parliament majority assured the
ODIHR chief that such an invitation will be extended immediately after
Kocharian sets an official election date. According to the Armenian
speaker, a corresponding presidential decree will be signed early
next month.

"There will be invitations for both short-term and long-term
monitoring missions," Samvel Nikoyan, a senior lawmaker from the
governing Republican Party, told RFE/RL. He said the OSCE will send a
"needs assessment team" to Yerevan later in February before beginning
to deploy observers.

"This means long-term monitoring will last for approximately two
months," said Grigor Harutiunian of the opposition Artarutyun
alliance. "Given the political situation in the country, this is
certainly not enough." OSCE monitoring should have begun last month,
he added.

Strohal insisted, however, that European observers will have enough
time to monitor the entire electoral process. "I understand these
elections might be in May, and it’s now January," he said.

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