Remarks by Ambassador John Heffern at the Free and Fair Elections Conference

Thank you Prime Minister Sargsian for your remarks and Prosecutor General Hovsepyan for initiating this conference.

The U.S. and Armenia have much to be proud of in the twenty-year history of our bilateral relations. The U.S.-Armenia relationship is strong and getting stronger.  The U.S. has long supported Armenia’s transition to democracy – through assistance projects and through diplomacy.

Like all of you, we want to see Armenia succeed as a free, independent, democratic and prosperous county – and we want to do what we can to help. Free, fair, and credible elections that meet international standards this year and next will:

  • Enhance Armenia’s international standing.
  • Cement bilateral ties with the US, the EU and West.

Elections are the cornerstone of democracy, but democracy is more than just election day.  What happens in the run-up to elections, outside polling stations, is just as important as what goes on inside.  A maturing democracy requires political competition – competition is a good thing.  Healthy – and loyal — competition can only thrive, though, with a level playing field for all parties and participants, including access to media.

Accountability and credibility are also essential to bring maturity to an emerging democracy.  Even perfect laws and flawless administration by the CEC are insufficient, if law enforcement does not hold people accountable for their actions and enforce the rules equally.  Accountability is a key part of the government’s task to demonstrate that the elections will be free and fair.

However, accountability depends on both the government and the citizenry.  The government on its own cannot ensure accountability. Accountability depends on citizens, political parties, civil society and the press to work – to work hard – to do their part.  Credibility comes from raising public awareness and creating a belief – a buzz – that something different is happening this time.

When I talk to people here about the upcoming elections, it is clear that building public trust is a must – and that is what this conference is all about.  As today’s attendance shows, everyone has role: all political parties, law enforcement, parliament, civil society, the press, and public.

We welcome the Government’s assurance about the importance of free, fair, and credible elections.  Words, though, are not enough.  You’ll hear many reassuring words today – and I welcome that.  But what I’m hoping you’ll also hear are commitments to action — commitments and the promise of accountability.

We support this conference because it will help clarify and educate the public about the responsibilities of law enforcement under the new electoral code.  It also gives civil society a chance to engage with law enforcement in an open, transparent forum – hopefully to seek solutions prior to the elections.

I applaud the participants – from both civil society and law enforcement – and wish you all success today and in elections ahead.