Armenia Final Report

Publication Date: 
30 Nov 2002

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INTRODUCTION

Building on the experience of providing on-site technical electoral assistance since June 1996, IFES moved into operation under the USAID/IFES Cooperative Agreement beginning 21 September 1997. Work undertaken at a relatively early stage in Armenia's democratic transition had generated support for democratic elections under the new agreement. These earlier democratic initiatives were undertaken during the presidency of Levon Ter-Petrossian, a period significant in Armenian history for its strong nationalist movement. Ter-Petrossian had led the country since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and his pragmatic policies were credited with keeping Armenia from slipping into internal chaos. Politically, analysts noted that while events surrounding the presidential elections of 1996 demonstrated Ter-Petrossian's control of the political apparatus, they also showed that his popular support was fragile. While international criticism remained mild, evidence of government manipulation of his election had a profound impact on the electorate: Armenians were disillusioned and skeptical. The population viewed the government's pledged commitment to democratic transition as being propagated by the select group that retained wealth and power in Armenia.

Beginning in September 1997, IFES initiated its efforts to strengthen Armenia's democratic structures, serving as a neutral and honest broker under the Cooperative Agreement. These efforts benefited from the continued cooperation of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) and the National Assembly, which both provided analysis and advice on election legislation reform. Daily interaction and broad discussions brought together a wide spectrum of legislators, government officials, NGO leaders, political party leaders, public policy advocates, and international election law experts. IFES also brought its experience in assisting and challenging newly emerging Armenian democracy NGOs as they worked to become effectively engaged in the political process and to advance issues specific to electoral and democratic development. In addition, IFES directly educated election officials at all levels through election administration training and the provision of election day manuals.

It was in this milieu of sustained and consistent work that IFES entered into the 1997 Cooperative Agreement. IFES not only greatly improved the electoral process and the level of transparency of the 1996 presidential elections, but also established a positive reputation among Armenians (both opposition and government) and international organizations, which would prove to be a valuable tool for deeper and broader improvements in Armenia under the Cooperative Agreement.

The Cooperative Agreement called for a coordinated program providing legal and election administrative consulting on the development of election legislation, support to the Central Election Commission, support to overall electoral process reform, and support to the conduct of elections. It also called for specific studies on voter and election issues. All work was aligned with USAID strategic objectives in Armenia.

Over the past several years, Armenia has undertaken a tenuous dual transition, striving to develop simultaneously the foundation of a free market economy and the institutional infrastructure of a democracy. Economic and political reforms have begun, but have been fraught with obstacles. Economic stagnation, the impact of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, and persistent corruption have impeded progress and engendered instability. As a result, reforms have failed to translate into a discernable improvement in the quality of life of most citizens.

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