International Crisis Group
June 25 2012

Unless Armenia's next presidential election is fair and gives its
winner a strong political mandate, the government will lack the
legitimacy needed to implement comprehensive reforms, tackle corruption
and negotiate a peaceful end to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Armenia: An Opportunity for Statesmanship, the latest report from the
International Crisis Group, examines the challenges before a pivotal
presidential vote early next year that will determine whether the
country has shed its more than a decade and a half of fraud-tainted
electoral history. Whoever is elected must accelerate implementation of
much-needed governance and economic reforms and help restore momentum
to diplomatic efforts to tackle the long-running territorial conflict
with Azerbaijan that poses a danger to regional stability.

"Another election perceived as seriously flawed would further distract
from peace talks and severe economic problems", says Lawrence Sheets,
Crisis Group's Caucasus Project Director. "The likely consequences
would then be even more citizens opting out of democratic politics,
as well as increased emigration".

May's competitive parliamentary elections produced positive signs,
with more balanced media coverage and widely respected rights of free
assembly, expression and movement. They also exposed longstanding
issues. Widespread abuse of administrative resources; inflated voters
lists; vote-buying; lack of sufficient redress for election violations;
and reports of multiple voting have damaged trust in government
bodies and institutions. It is crucial that the February 2013 vote,
in which President Serzh Sargsyan will likely seek a second term,
becomes "the cleanest elections in Armenian history", as he had
already promised the 2012 polls would be.

Though the president initially took bold steps, most noteworthy
among them an attempt to normalise relations with Turkey, broader
change has been slow. Political courage is needed to overhaul a deeply
entrenched system in which big business and politics are intertwined,
and transparency is lacking.

The economy remains unhealthily reliant on financial remittances from
Armenians abroad. Rates of emigration and seasonal migration out of
the country are alarmingly high. There have been few serious efforts
to combat high-level corruption. The executive branch still enjoys
overwhelming, virtually unchecked, powers. The judicial system is
perceived as neither independent nor competent, and mechanisms to
hold authorities accountable are largely ineffective. Media freedom
is inadequate, with a glaring lack of diversity in television, from
which most Armenians get their news.

To address these shortcomings and establish the basis for a free and
fair election, the president should take the lead in encouraging
authorities to pass a new criminal code, hold officials involved
in corruption and elections abuses to account and increase civilian
control of the police and independence of the judiciary. International
partners should provide technical and financial assistance and hold
the government accountable for any backsliding in reform.

"President Sargsyan has a window of opportunity, in advance of the
2013 elections, to demonstrate statesmanship and make Armenia a
better place to live", says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group's Europe
Program Director. "A failure to embrace both immediate and long-term
structural reforms would neither capitalise on Armenia's strengths
nor make for a good presidential campaign strategy".