François-Xavier de Donnea, head of the OSCE observer mission for the elections, praised the progress made since presidential elections in 2008, which were followed by riots that killed 10 people and a government crackdown on the opposition and news media. “My impression was that things in Armenia looked much better than during the elections in 2008," de Donnea said during a meeting on 16 May in European Policy Centre in Brussels. "The improvements can be made not so much in the law as in the behaviour of political parties and the candidates.”
Improvements in parliamentary elections would advance EU-Armenia relations, he said.
De Donnea said in a statement after the 6 May elections that Armenia deserved recognition for its electoral reforms and its open and peaceful campaign environment. He added, however, that some candidates and political parties failed to comply with the law and “didn’t accept the rules”.
The OSCE cited possible vote-buying and pressure on government employees to support the governing party, accusations that also marred the last parliamentary elections.
President Serzh Sargsyan's Republican party won the election with 44% of the vote, or 69 seats, getting an overall majority in the 131-seat parliament. The Prosperous Armenia Party, led by businessman Gagik Tsarukyan, took 30% or 37 seats.
Three smaller parties crossed the 5% threshold as did the opposition Armenian National Congress, which reached 7 % of the vote. The results put Sargsyan in a position for winning next year’s presidential election.
The apparent improvements in the political environment must be set against opposition charges that thousands of votes were bought. Incriminating footage was posted on YouTube. “Bribery was much more prevalent than before,” a Western diplomat reportedly said.
However, others were cautious about such criticism. “The message of Catherine Ashton was rather positive. The elections will not affect the EU agenda in a negative way. We will see if it will be affected in a positive way”, said Paruyr Hovhannisyan, senior counsellor of the European Friends of Armenia, referring to the EU's foreign policy chief.
Hrant Kostanyan, a visiting research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies, sees possible stronger EU support for Armenia.
“Based on the EU’s renewed Neighbourhood Policy’s ‘more for more’ principle, one might expect more support from the EU for Armenia," he said. This is due to the “progress towards more transparent and competitive elections” as outlined in the statement by Ashton and Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle”, Kostanyan told EurActiv.
He added, however, that the initial support might come with some reservations and in anticipation of the next year’s presidential elections, where the shortcomings of the Parliamentary elections are expected to be addressed.
"This in turn will determine EU support for Armenia’s ongoing reforms as well as overall EU-Armenia relations in the medium term”, he stated.
The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) aims to forge closer ties with countries to the South and East of the EU without offering them a membership perspective. Armenia is one of 16 countries that were proposed partnership under ENP.