Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly
has threatened to deny Armenia voting rights.
The Council of Europe signaled a toughening of
its policy towards official Yerevan on Monday
when its Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) threatened
to strip its Armenian delegation of voting rights
due to serious irregularities reported during
the recent parliamentary elections.
In a resolution, the PACE reaffirmed strong criticism
of the Armenian authorities' handling of the May
25 elections voiced by a multinational team of
its lawmakers who monitored them jointly with
the Organization for Security and Cooperation
The resolution says that the pan-European assembly
will "consider challenging the ratification
of credentials of the new Armenian delegation
given the scope and gravity of irregularities,
in particular, during the vote count."
The warning concerns four deputies appointed
by the leadership of the new parliament in Yerevan
to fill Armenia's four seats in the PACE. Among
them is Stepan Demirchiyan, the leader of the
opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance which
accuses the authorities of falsifying the vote
results. Artarutyun, which also claims that Demirchyan
was the rightful winner of this year's presidential
ballot, has repeatedly called for tougher European
action against the Armenian leadership. But it
remains to be seen whether it will back the punitive
measure threatened by the PACE.
The new parliamentary delegation is to start representing
Armenia at the assembly's autumn session this
September. Two Armenian lawmakers attending its
ongoing summer session, Armen Rustamyan and Artashes
Geghamyan, are using the previous parliament's
"The election campaign and vote showed an
improvement over the last Presidential elections,"
the PACE resolution says. "Unfortunately
the vote count showed the same pattern of irregularities,
if not on a greater scale, (ballot box stuffing,
protocol falsification, intimidation of proxies
and observers) as observed during the last Presidential
elections. These elections therefore still fall
short of internationally accepted democratic standards."
Armenia's Central Election Commission and the
winner of the legislative polls, the Republican
Party of Prime Minister Andranik Markaryan, admit
that there were vote irregularities, but insist
that those were not serious enough to affect the
outcome of the elections.
The resolution further stresses that Armenia
will remain under the regime of permanent PACE
monitoring until it holds presidential and parliamentary
elections "in line with internationally accepted
The monitoring process has so far focused on
the fulfillment of specific obligations assumed
by the country when it joined the Council of Europe
in January 2001. Holding free and fair elections
were not among them. Instead, Yerevan pledged
to strengthen safeguards against human rights
abuses and abolish the death penalty completely
The new Armenian Criminal Code, enacted in April,
formally outlaws capital punishment for all crimes
except the October 1999 massacre in the parliament.
The Strasbourg-based organization has rejected
the exception as unacceptable, with the PACE threatening
last September to suspend Armenia's membership
if the clause is not removed by June 2003.
The sensitive issue was not included on the agenda
of its current summer session, however. Armenian
officials announced earlier this month that the
Council of Europe has agreed to their request
to extend the deadline to the end of this year.