|Civilitas Perspective / Democracy|
Event As a result of the last discussion on the situation in Armenia, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) did not impose sanctions, but Armenia ‘gained’ one more resolution.
Background In December 2008, the PACE Monitoring Group decided that at the PACE winter session in January 2009, PACE should discuss whether to deprive the Armenian delegation of its right to vote, since Armenia had not registered any substantive progress in implementing the provisions of PACE resolutions 1609 and 1620 that negatively assessed the political situation in the wake of the March 1 post-election crackdown. One day before the scheduled discussion, however, the rapporteurs proposed that the issue not be raised in the plenary session of PACE, basing that recommendation on their visit to Armenia in mid-January. Instead, the session adopted yet another resolution -- number 1643 -- extending until the April PACE session the deadline for the Armenian authorities to comply with the demands contained in the two earlier resolutions.
Analysis When the new resolution was passed, the public response in Armenia revolved around the question: was it a defeat or a victory? It would, however, be more realistic to admit that so long as Armenia’s democratic status and domestic affairs remain a subject of PACE Monitoring, the state itself has suffered a defeat. In that respect, whether the Armenian delegation lost the right to vote or not is of marginal importance as long as the state remains in an unfavorable position. Unfortunately, the responses to the PACE decision indicate that Armenia’s political elite directed the discussions towards the simplistic "victory or defeat" paradigm, which probably satisfied the entire political spectrum, because it eliminated any responsibility for the overall situation or any need to conduct a meaningful evaluation of the situation, and instead transported the focus of accountability and responsibility to Strasbourg. That superficial approach offers little hope that Armenia will use the additional time allotted to work effectively and embark on deep reforms.
Outlook The Armenian authorities have promised PACE to review Articles 225 and 300 of the Criminal Code. These are the articles which refer to the organization of public mass unrest, overturning the constitutional order and usurping power, and under which seven prominent oppositionists are currently on trial. Nevertheless, the authorities have stopped short of clearly affirming that the steps they have undertaken will result in the release of the opposition figures, or those who have already been tried and convicted, before the PACE April session. The opposition coalition that backs former President and defeated presidential candidate Levon Ter- Petrossian has declared that they do not believe the authorities’ assurances that they will fulfill the PACE expectations, and they intend to organize a demonstration on the anniversary of the March 1 clashes. Their application to Yerevan city authorities to hold such a demonstration has been rejected, as have most similar requests this year. Nevertheless, those demonstrations have taken place, as they will in this case as well, the opposition leadership says. Thus, a possible explanation for the continuing rejections is that the government assumes that a sanctioned demonstration will draw larger crowds than one which is not sanctioned. Events to date suggest that whatever happens at the March 1 anniversary demonstration, and even in the absence of any escalating tensions, the PACE April session will still be faced with a lack of qualitative change in the domestic political situation in Armenia. Nor is such change likely in the absence of any firm commitment to long-term institutional reforms that would facilitate the democratization process, and as long as the authorities' overriding concern and objective is not the fundamental resolution of Armenia’s problems, but avoiding PACE sanctions.