PACE Session Reviews Voting Process; Rustamian Stresses Dire Need for Free Elections

(PACE/Yerkir)–A 2006 Ordinary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) reviewed Tuesday a declaration on the recent referendum in Armenia on constitutional reforms. The report–presented by an ad hoc PACE Committee that observed the November 27 vote–stresses that "Armenia needed to reform its Constitution in order to be able to fulfill some of its most important obligations and commitmen’s to the Council of Europe."

In fact–the country adopted the proposed reforms that bring the Armenian Constitution in line with European standards.

On voting day–the joint monitoring delegation visited some 150 polling stations in Yerevan and in the regions of Ararat–Armavir–Kotayk–and Aragatsotn–and report that: "In most of the polling stations–the voting process at the time of the visit seemed normal and generally in compliance with international standards."

They also report that the overwhelming majority of those who went to the polling stations and cast their ballots were in favor of the constitutional amendmen’s and by voting–they expressed their free will.

"The question–however–is how many they were and whether the quorum was reached. The small scale of our observation mission does not allow us to make general conclusions in one way or another. It is impossible to estimate the real scale of the fraud that was observed and by how much it has affected the final result."

They do stress–however–that Armenian authorities must take decisive measures to investigate instances of fraud that were observed. "The adoption of a new Constitution–which is supposed to bring Armenia closer to European values and principles–will remain forever stained by a doubtful credibility. No reform is truly democratic when it is achieved through undemocratic means."

In their recommendations for improving Armenia’s polling process–the reports advises the stamping of ballot papers before votes are cast so that they can immediately be dropped into ballot boxes–without manipulation; revising voting procedures for the military and disabled; and introducing a planned National Voters Register and improved registered voter lists in Armenia.

The head of Armenia’s delegation to PACE–blamed Armenian opposition parities for their last minute withdrawal from election commissions–which hindered the monitoring of the entire process.

"If Armenia wants to be democratic–it must hold free and fair elections elections in 2007 and 2008 because there is no alternative," Rustamian told the PACE session.

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