Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Briefly on Schiff delegation in Baku and Yerevan, Georgian election

First published in May 31, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Congressional delegation in Armenia, region

Reps. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.), Allyson Schwartz (D.-Penn.) and Wayne Gilchrest (R.-Md.) visited Baku on May 24–25 and Yerevan on May 26–27, meeting with Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents and other officials, their offices reported. The trip was the first visit to Armenia by members of Congress since 2005 and was organized through the ad hoc House Democracy Assistance Commission.

Rep. Schiff, who represents the cities of Glendale and Pasadena, with the largest proportion of Armenian-American voters in the United States, told President Serge Sargsian, “We consider Armenia an important partner and ally. Consequently, we wish to as far as possible assist its political and economic progress.”

In an interview with RFE/RL Armenian Service, Rep. Schiff said that he and other members were “concerned with the problems that occurred during the election [in Armenia], the violence that occurred after the election.”

“We are here to try to assess the situation and talk with the Armenian government about how we can help move the government further in the direction of democracy,” Rep. Schiff added.

Rep. Schiff’s delegation also met with aides to Levon Ter-Petrossian, the opposition figure and former president, who focused on the recent election campaign and its outcome.

While in Baku, the members of Congress heard criticisms of Armenia and the Armenian diaspora, with few details reported.

From Armenia the delegation flew on to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Georgian ruling party election sweep welcomed, protested

The National Movement Party led by President Mikheil Saakashvili swept the May 21 parliamentary election winning more than 110 seats in the 150-seat legislature, according to preliminary results made available via the news portal.

The remaining seats were won by the Nine-party Opposition Alliance (about 16 seats) led by David Gamkrelidze, the Christian Democratic Party of former TV anchor Giorgi Targamadze (8 seats), the Labor Party of populist politician Shalva Natelashvili (6 seats), and the opposition Republican Party led by David Berdzenishvili (2 seats).

Three of the seats in parliament went to ethnic Armenians, as the Armenian Reporter reported last week.

The opposition alliance quickly called for annulment of results, pointing to electoral violations. It also launched several well-attended protest rallies and vowed it would prevent the new parliament from convening.

Western observers suggested that the government’s efforts to meet democratic standards for elections were “uneven and incomplete.”

(The observers gave a more upbeat assessment of the presidential election last January calling it “democratic.” See this page in the January 12, 2008 Armenian Reporter.)

According to the observers there were problems with vote count in 16 percent of precincts inspected – about the same number as in Georgian, as well as Armenian, presidential polls earlier this year.

Nevertheless, the U.S. State Department was “encouraged” by what it thought were “improvements” in election conduct compared to the previous poll.

Georgia has been possibly the most eager ally of the United State in recent years, sending one of the largest military contingents in support of U.S.-led Iraq operations.

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