Emerging democracies often face internal and external conflicts that may push them off course in their development. In recent years, the Republic of Armenia encountered many of these simultaneously, starting with the peaceful Velvet Revolution in 2018 and following snap elections, the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh. These events were followed by the near collapse of the democratically elected government in 2021, which shook the population, damaged confidence in its leaders and contributed to the call for snap elections in June 2021. Occurring in relatively short succession, these events threatened constitutional order and the security of Armenian democracy. Despite these challenges, Armenia continues to make substantial progress in its democratic transition, particularly towards increasing the transparency and legitimacy of its elections.
The Parliamentary Assembly from the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution on Jan. 27, 2022 that commended Armenia for the high-quality elections held in 2018 and 2021 in the wake of these challenges. The resolution described the elections as “free of the irregularities that had tainted many elections in the past” and highlighted the impactful reforms to the electoral framework undertaken in the same time period, which represent a “marked improvement […] both in terms of the legislation on political parties and the funding of electoral campaigns, and in terms of the voting system.” Specifically, the PACE statement highlighted for praise:
- "…The efforts made to safeguard the integrity of the system of political finance and enhance political parties’ transparency and accountability…"
- "…The lowering of the threshold of votes required for a political party to receive public funding"
- "…The package of amendments adopted in April and May 2021 which addressed the majority of recommendations raised in previous Venice Commission opinions and OSCE/ODIHR election observation missions’ final reports”
- “…The inclusive and transparent procedure for adopting these amendments and the fact that the amendments of April and May 2021 had been discussed and prepared for a long time, even though they were voted in very shortly before the elections”
Under the USAID-funded Strengthening Electoral Processes and Political Accountability (SEPPA) Program, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) provided direct support to the government of Armenia, election management bodies (EMBs) and other stakeholders to navigate a number of these challenges. In particular, IFES played a critical role in the drafting, review and passage of amendments to the Political Party Law and revised Electoral Code in 2021 through moderating a novel consensus-building forum within the National Assembly. IFES’ moderation of this forum contributed to inclusive high-quality discussion and decision-making around electoral reform efforts that led to the introduction of first-of-its-kind measures to strengthen political and campaign finance oversight in Armenia.
IFES also provided direct support to the Armenian Central Election Commission (CEC) and lower-level EMBs in preparation for snap parliamentary elections in December 2018 and June 2021, as well as local self-government elections in October to December 2021. Both the snap parliamentary and local elections in 2021 were held following the passage of new electoral legislation and a new electoral system. IFES’ support contributed to the smooth conduct of both election cycles, which were highlighted in the PACE resolution and observer reports.
These are meaningful developments that show that Armenians with different political affiliations are willing to work collaboratively towards a common goal of strengthening Armenian elections. Despite this impressive list of accomplishments, the report notes Armenia’s journey toward a thriving democracy is not complete and pitfalls still remain, including a closing media space, proliferation of disinformation and intense political polarization. Nonetheless, if recent history is any indication, there is a consensus that inclusive and transparent democracy is a shared value that disparate political interests will work towards, for the collective betterment of all the Armenian people.
Published on March 16, 2022.