Bush Hopes for Free Elections in Armenia

WASHINGTON (RFE/RL)–President George W. Bush has congratulated Serzh Sarkisian on his appointment as Armenia’s new prime minister and urged him to help ensure the proper conduct of the upcoming parliamentary elections. We look forward to the parliamentary elections on May 12 and hope that you will help ensure that these elections are free and fair, meet international standards, and bolster the relations between our two countries, Bush said in a congratulatory message made public by Sarkisians office on Tuesday. The Bush administration strongly criticized Yerevan for serious fraud reported by international observers during the last Armenian parliamentary and presidential elections. Sarkisian, who was the countrys defense minister before replacing the deceased Prime Minister Andranik Markarian on April 4, played a key role in the conduct of those polls. U.S. officials have said that the upcoming vote is a good opportunity for the Armenian authorities to redeem themselves. They have warned that a repeat of serious fraud would jeopardize the release of $235 million in additional U.S. economic assistance to Armenia. Still, the U.S. administration is unlikely to ostracize Yerevan in the event of another deeply flawed ballot now that it is hoping to broker a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict before the end of this year. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried implied last week that Washington does not expect the Armenian elections to be fully democratic. We don’t expect perfection, he told journalists. We don’t expect to go from deeply flawed to perfect, but we do expect to see substantial forward progress. Fried noted at the same time that Armenia’should have been way ahead of Georgia in terms of democratic reforms given the strength of its worldwide Diaspora and its links with Europe and the United States. Armenia’should be doing better, he said. It should be a leader. It should be a prospering country. It has all the ingredients. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian repeated his governments election-related assurances on Tuesday as he spoke at a meeting in Vienna of the main decision-making body of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe "This is a huge test for Armenia’s democracy and I firmly believe that we together – the government, the opposition, the public and the OSCE – we together can indeed hold a normal election that will greatly contribute to Armenia’s further democratization processes," he said.

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