Free Elections Only Way to Council of Europe

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s full membership in the Council of Europe depends on how free and fair the next year’s parliamentary elections will be–one of President Robert Kocharian’s advisers said Tuesday.

Paruir Hayrikian–Kocharian’s adviser for legal reforms and a prominent Soviet-era dissident–told a presidential commission on human rights that he came to that conclusion Armenia after meetings in Paris last week with Council of Europe officials. "If our elections don’t meet European standards–we may find ourselves in a sad situation," Hayrikian warned.

Hayrikian attended an international conference in Paris on the 50th anniversary of the UN declaration on human rights. Armenia currently has a special guest status in the pan-European human rights organization. Officials in the Council of Europe have said no decision is expected on Armenia’s full membership before May 1999.

Elections held in Armenia’since 1995 have all been marred with serious irregularities–according to international observers. Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation had said the last ballot–the presidential election in March–fell short of "OSCE standards," a claim the Armenian authorities reject.

The next parliamentary elections in Armenia are due in the summer of 1999. The opposition accused the authorities of planning a massive fraud after the passage last month in the first reading of a new election law.

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