By Sargis Harutyunyan
YEREVAN – The United States experts Armenia’s upcoming election to be more democratic than the legislative polls held in May last year, U.S Ambassador John Heffern said.
“Our hope is that these elections will become the new benchmark for [Armenian] elections in the future,” he told a news conference in Yerevan.
Heffern noted improvements’ that were reported by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe during the May 2012 elections. But he said those polls were also marred by “serious problems” and, in particular, “credible” reports of vote buying and use of administrative resources.
“What the international community is looking for and hoping for — and the [Armenian] president has committed to — is imporved elections over May, specifically in those two areas,” he said in reference to the February 18 presidential ballot.
The outgoing U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a largely positive assessment of the Armenian parliament vote when she visited Yerevan in July. Clinton urged the Armenian government to “ensure that the next election is even better.”
President Serzh Sarkisian has since repeatedly promised that the 2013 ballot, in which he is seeking reelection will be the most democratic in the country’s history. His political opponents dismiss these assurances, however.
Heffern said that the proper conduct of Armenian elections is “very important” to Washington and that he “talked a lot” about the matter during his recent meetings in the U.S. with representatives of the Armenian-American Community.
The envoy stressed that Armenia’s democratization is a key to U.S policy goal in the region. He said Washington is trying to achieve it by promoting political and economic reforms in the country, assisting in its regional integration and “keeping Armenia focused on the West.”
“No country can be totally dependent on one border and one partner,” added Heffern. “All countries need options and that’s what awe are trying to do: to help Armenia develop options so it can pick up and choose what kind of partnership and cooperation it wants with other countries.”