In an interview to Armenian News-NEWS.am, Baroness Emma Nicholson, head of PACE monitoring delegation to Armenia, shares her observations on the technical preparation to May 6 parliamentary elections in Armenia. A body of elected MPs is summing their expertise up to evaluate the elections comprehensively. The observers will compose a preliminary report on the very next day after the elections, May 7, and the full report is expected to be completed in a few days.
Please provide details on the agenda of your meeting schedule of May 4 - 5.
On Friday, as part of the OSCE delegation, I was very happy to have a huge sequence of meetings. We started at 9.00 a.m. with a meeting of the delegation of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. We've got some 27-28 colleagues here, of 17-18 nationalities. We had a very good morning. First, we met long-term election observers, which gave us a lot of knowledge. Then we had a meeting with the electoral commissioner [Tigran Mukuchyan]. He is very impressive: very large amount of information poured out of him. He is extremely dedicated person. Then we had briefings with many different politicians coming from many political parties to tell us their concerns and worries, and exactly what was happening. We had a very large number of people indeed. We met the representatives of the Republican party, Prosperous Armenia party, Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Heritage and Free Democrats party, and Armenian National Congress. So we've had a pretty widespread range of political opinions, offered to us in very strong terms, as you can get. Full ranging politicians, just about to get to the ballot box - they are very particular about absolutely everything. Those meetings went on about three hours and were very valuable. I think in these three hours we learned a lot on Armenian politics.
On May 5 we are meeting many representatives of civil society - members of Transparency International, It's Your Choice, the Open Society Foundation, Regional Studies Center, Counterpart International and the Caucasus Institute. In the evening on May 5 we are meeting the representatives of the media. This has added to the knowledge that I managed to acquire on the preliminary visit a few weeks ago.
You were part of the observing mission in 2007. Have you observed any gains in the performance of te political competitors?
I saw two things that I consider to be positive. It was clear to the technical experts that there has been a serious advance in such things as election code. This is all to the good. Armenia is a relatively new democracy, and this is inevitably a learning process: the pieces come together, and those technical aspects are the underpinning of an election process. Secondly, this time I saw that the political parties were getting together more in terms of seeing the worries or supposed weaknesses in the election process and getting together to actually discuss them. I do not recall that in 2007 to that extent. Generally we, politicians, are against each other in the sense politics requires us to be.
Nonetheless, for the good of the nation, in a critical moment the political parties should get around the table and try to get the problem solved. I can see a movement in what I consider to be a good direction.
Election authorities have presented a solid package of information to the public. Do you think there are additional pieces of data that could have helped?
It is wonderful that the public has access to that useful information. In the electoral commissioner’s office on my last visit I saw some of this material, which I thought was excellent. There were many people out there to pick up that information and learn, and then to use. At the end of the day, it is the voter who holds the key. So the more the voter understands, and the more the voter is willing to understand it all, the better judgment the voters themselves can make at the ballot box. It's up to the voter.
Certainly what I saw in the electoral commissioner’s office was a lot o material on training of domestic observers. He was very surprised, I recall, that a whole new deluge of people have come to him demanding training, and he had decided that he was going to open up again and allow more to be registered. He was willing to open the doors again. Not rigidness, not a negative, but saying: yes, I've got nothing against it and I will do that for you. That was a very creditable effort. I congratulate him for that. He is a serious professional. If the observers go through that training, they would see what they should and should not do, and the reason why they should not do it.
In your body of observers, you had a fraction of MP's from Poland. In their opinion, does the election process in Armenia correspond to those of the Central and Eastern Europe in general?
Once a country is democratic, in that sense we are all the same. So the colleagues from old and new democracies are of the same value - each and every one of us. That is really what democracy is all about – everyone is as good as the next person. I enjoyed working with Polish colleagues very much. A mixture of emerging and ancient democracies certainly gives an intriguing blend. The democracy in my own country is rather old, and some of the democracies are younger, so we can bring our wisdom together.
How long are you supposed to stay at polling stations of your choice on the Election Day?
It is, of course, entirely up to us, but the general rule is that we sit between half and three quarters of an hour, However, I've monitored a large number of elections. If I am worried, I will not leave. Sometimes I have spent almost a whole day at a single polling station. Or I have gone out, done six more and come back again. Because I felt that something was not quite right. I have monitored about thirty elections so far, so I have got a considerable body of experience in Africa, Middle East, as well as in Europe. So every time my mind is catching up with how I know things should be and how I find them. Sometimes things are not perfect just because people are very busy, and you can not quite manage it. Sometimes you think - well, you know maybe there is something else beyond all this. So if I am troubled with something, I may very well not move on. Or occasionally, something is so beautifully done that I literally want to stay and watch a superbly run polling station, for a sheer pleasure. There is no absolute rule. But generally speaking on what we are doing, we are like a hive of bees, going around and around absolutely everywhere, with exactly the same pair of spectacles everywhere, filling in exactly the same forms, looking for exactly the same things. And the strength of that approach is the huge body of information that is collected and can be immediately analyzed through the day.
By Aram Gareginyan