May 12 Vote: Touchstone Fo Armenian Democracy

MAY 12 VOTE: TOUCHSTONE FOR ARMENIAN DEMOCRACY

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[08:08 pm] 13 April, 2007

The forthcoming parliamentary elections in Armenia on May 12 will
be a crucial touchstone for the degree of maturity of democracy in
Armenia, concluded the four-member pre-election delegation of the
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) at the end of
a visit to Yerevan from 10 to 13 April 2007.

The delegation was heartened by the assurances of the Armenian
authorities, and all political stakeholders it met, that it is their
intention to hold elections that fully meet Council of Europe standards
for democratic elections. In this respect the delegation stresses
that it is the responsibility of all parties and stakeholders to
adhere to the rules that a genuinely democratic process demands.

The delegation took note of the improved election code, which has
generally passed the expert analysis of the Council of Europe’s Venice
Commission. The election code forms a sound basis for the conduct of
democratic elections if it is fully implemented in good faith.

The delegation welcomes the efforts by the authorities to create a
centralised voters’ list, in line with long-standing recommendations
by the Parliamentary Assembly. However, the delegation also notes the
concerns of several interlocutors that the accuracy of the voters’
lists still leaves a lot to be desired. It therefore calls upon the
authorities to continue, and if necessary step up, all efforts to
ensure the highest possible accuracy of the voters’ list on Election
Day. In this respect, the delegation regrets the reluctance by the
majority of the political players in Armenia to introduce the inking
of voters’ fingers, as advised by the Venice Commission, as a proven
mechanism to prevent multiple voting.

The delegation was concerned over its overall impression of a lack
of popular interest in the election process by the electorate. Such
attitudes of apathy, or even cynicism, are not conducive to the
development of democracy in Armenia. The delegation was not able,
with a few notable exceptions, to discern marked differences between
the political platforms of the contenders. It was left with the
impression that the upcoming elections are regarded by many as
a struggle between political elites and not between concepts and
ideas. In relation to this, the delegation is concerned that, in
a number of constituencies, only one candidate is running for the
majoritarian mandate, thereby not allowing the electorate in those
constituencies a fully democratic choice.

The delegation would like to stress that a level playing field in the
campaign, and full respect for the principles of freedom of expression
and assembly, are key conditions for democratic elections. It is
therefore concerned by the uneven conditions for the political players,
as highlighted by the media monitoring sponsored by the Council of
Europe. In this respect, the exhorbitant costs for paid political
advertising demanded by broadcasters are deeply regretted.

The fact that out-of-country voting has been abolished in the amended
election code is of concern to the delegation, as, in practice, it
will disenfranchise a sizeable part of the Armenian population that
is living abroad.

The delegation strongly condemns the recent attacks on the headquarters
of a political party in Armenia. It would like to reiterate its
position that violence and intimidation have no place in a democratic
society.

Electoral violations during past elections have never been
satisfactorily investigated and prosecuted. A climate of impunity
for electoral violations and election related violence can not be
allowed to exist in Armenia. The delegation therefore calls upon
the competent authorities to fully investigate any election-related
complaints that are brought to its attention and, where violations
are found, to provide redress and prosecute the violators to the
fullest extent of the law.

Lastly, the delegation calls on all political actors to use the
little time that is left before May 12 to ensure that the forthcoming
parliamentary elections are fully in line with Council of Europe
standards.

The pre-election delegation visited Yerevan from 10 to 13 April at the
invitation of the President of the National Assembly of Armenia. The
cross-party delegation was composed of Leo Platvoet (Netherlands,
UEL), Head of Delegation, Georges Colombier (France, EPP/CD), Ewald
Lindinger (Austria, SOC) and Bernard Marquet (Monaco, ALDE). During
its visit, the delegation met with the President of the Republic,
the President of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister and the
Ministers of Justice and Foreign Affairs, the Chairman of the Central
Election Commission, a cross-section of political parties running in
these elections, members of the Constitutional Court and the Office
of the Human Rights Defender of Armenia, as well as representatives
of the mass media and NGO communities.

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