Op-Ed: Parliamentary elections a test for new changes

Op-Ed: Parliamentary elections a test for new changes

Can every citizen be an election observer?

This year, Armenia challenges its citizens to capture, in real time, election fraud with their new online election monitoring program, iDitord.

PanARMENIAN.Net - Capitalizing on technological advancements, iDitord aims to engage Armenians in a new level of civic-participation, enabling voters to report election fraud through online submissions or text messages.The inclusion of mobile applications, and integration with phones and Twitter, should encourage tech savvy voters to engage with the electoral process in a country where one in three citizens is now online.

The Armenian government's facilitation of such people-powered innovations used to strengthen the democratic process is encouraging and would indicate further progress away from the ballot box stuffing and outright buying of votes that plagued elections in 2003 and 2007.

This week hundreds of parliamentarians and other OSCE observers from more than 20 countries will arrive in Armenia to observe the vote. We are here to witness a process more than the result, and ultimately we will assess whether this election takes place in accordance with Armenia's democratic commitments made under the 1990 Copenhagen Document.

Armenia adopted these commitments to fair elections when it joined the OSCE in 1992, confirming Armenia's dedication to democracy, minority rights and the rule of law. In previous years, these commitments have not been fully realized. However, changes to the electoral code prior to the 2007 parliamentary elections, and again last year, indicate a desire to improve on lessons learned and foster a more democratic and transparent electoral system.

Efforts to increase the number of women in elected office and serving in the election commission are welcome changes across a region where gender lines still too often dictate who sits in the halls of power.

New campaign finance restrictions and a provision for judicial remedy of all electoral disputes will hopefully add greater transparency and accountability to the campaign environment.

And new technology enabling voters to check their registration online should enhance the citizen experience to make Armenia a model for 21st century democracies.

The move toward great citizen engagement also highlights an important aspect for Armenia's diaspora: electoral publicity and transparency. However, these technological advancements are meaningless without proper governmental follow-up. The online reporting tool will only be effective if legitimate complaints are acted upon swiftly by competent authorities in the election administration or judiciary.

Despite its rich history, Armenia suffers today from continued emigration particularly from its younger and better educated citizens. The country has an approximately eight million person diaspora stretching across Europe, the Middle East and North America, which plays a dynamic role in its democratic transition. Often the strong ties between Armenia and its diaspora have fueled democratic advancements and continue to drive changes within Armenia. So, when Armenians head to polling stations for Sunday's parliamentary elections not only will international observers be watching Armenia's progress, but so too will those who despite their geographical location, consider Armenia home.

Seeing all this, the 6 May elections - the first to be held under the newly amended electoral code - should provide a solid basis for democracy.

But new legislative reforms and high-tech changes alone will not ensure democratic elections - people will. All stakeholders have a role to play now, on election day, and beyond, to promote the fair conduct of genuine democratic elections.

Armenians have demonstrated their potential to live up to their democratic commitments in the past. Five years ago we found the elections to be largely in line with OSCE commitments. We hope to see an even better performance this year.

Francois Xavier de Donnea is a member of the Belgian Parliament and the special co-ordinator to lead the OSCE election observation mission in Armenia.

Francois Xavier de Donnea
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