Why Freedom House Downgraded Karabakh Democracy

From the Armenian Weekly

The new annual report of Freedom House analyzing the democratic trends of 2011 reveals that the region of the former Soviet Union, with the exception of Baltic states, is moving towards authoritarian governance. According to FH, since 2001, the region as a whole has experienced continuous decline in political rights and civil liberties. However, FH estimates show that global freedom itself has declined for the fifth consecutive year in 2010.

With most results more or less predictable, I am only surprised to see the rating on the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. For the first time ever, NKR is now is listed in the “not free” group, together with its former metropolis—Azerbaijan. In my opinion, there is a mixture of causes behind this outcome. But before mentioning this, I would urge to pay attention to the Report of the Independent American-Dutch Monitoring Delegation, published after the observation mission on Karabakh Parliament elections of May 2010. It is important to highlight the position of the only American observation mission, in order to understand where the FH got its negative feedback about Karabakh. The report reads that the elections were held in a “free, fair and transparent” manner, in line with national legislation and the international standards of democracy. The report also marked that “Nagorno Karabakh continues to make strong progress in establishing and sustaining a healthy and sustainable democracy.” So, if FH put together all the reports coming from the field, NKR’s rating would not have declined, but just the opposite.

Bearing this in mind, I argue that the FH assessment is based on putting the indicators of Nagorno Karabakh into some “equation” that applies to all the other countries, without looking into the specificities of Karabakh. It’s well known that the 2010 elections in NKR were less competitive than in the previous years, because less oppositional candidates contested in the elections. The result was that only one candidate out of the all elected MPs could be labeled as being in opposition. My guess is, the FH experts just put this indicator into their equation and the result was that democracy is in decline in Karabakh. FH obviously did not have time to dig deeper and realize, that in reality the main opposition forces in Karabakh had simply been unwilling to contest the elections. Perhaps they had not been ready to effectively participate in the elections, and simply chose the easiest way in the political process: to stay away from the elections, and later begin criticizing the government and the new Parliament without any effort to actively engage in the political process.

On the other hand, certain democratic improvements in the Electoral Code went into effect in NKR before 2010 general elections. The general threshold for political parties and for political blocs was lowered from 10 to 6 percent and from 15 to 8 percent respectively, thus increasing the chances for relatively small political units to effectively contest general elections.

In short, the result indicated in the FH report is more about technical problems in FH assessments than a real setback in democracy in Karabakh. Still, I am not ready to challenge the impartiality of the FH, since it is recognized as the most established democracy and human rights monitor in the world. I hope they will soon review their assessment. The Permanent Representative of NKR in Washington DC Ambassador R. Avetisyan has already sent them a letter on the matter, with a comprehensive presentation of the political map of Karabakh.

Hovhannes Nikoghosyan is the director and a research fellow at Yerevan-based Public Policy Institute (www.professionals.am).


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  1. Avetis said:

    Artsakh/Armenia is not “free” or “democratic” according to a blood-drenched and deeply corrupt global empire that run by a conglomeration of mega corporation and special interests serviced by subservient politicians… As long as Democrats and Republics run the political show in the United States, there will never be “democracy” or “free and fair elections” in America… Not only are the American people the dumbest in the civilized world, they are also the least free. So, I suggest we Armenians take the politically driven assessment of “Freedom House” with a grain of salt.