The new annual report by Freedom House (FH) analyzing the democratic trends of 2011 reveals that the region of the former Soviet Union, with the exception of the Baltic states, is moving towards authoritarian governance. According to FH, since 2001, the region as a whole has experienced continuous decline in political rights and civil liberties. However, FH’s estimates show that global freedom itself has declined for the fifth consecutive year in 2010.
With most results more or less predictable, I am only surprised to see the rating on the Nagorno Karabagh Republic (NKR). For the first time ever, NKR is now listed in the “not free” group, together with its former metropolis—Azerbaijan. In my opinion, there is a mixture of causes behind this outcome. But before mentioning this, I urge readers to pay attention to the report by the Independent American-Dutch Monitoring Delegation, published after the observation mission on the Karabagh Parliamentary elections of May 2010. It is important to highlight the position of the only American observation mission in order to understand where the FH got its negative feedback about Karabagh. The report reads that the elections were held in a “free, fair, and transparent” manner, in line with national legislation and the international standards of democracy. “Nagorno Karabakh continues to make strong progress in establishing and sustaining a healthy and sustainable democracy,” the report continues. So, if FH put together all the reports coming from the field, the NKR’s rating would not have declined—just the opposite.
It’s as if the FH assessment put the indicators of Karabagh into some “equation” that applies to all of the other countries, without looking into the specifics of Karabagh. It’s well known that the 2010 elections in the NKR were less competitive than in previous years, since less opposition candidates contested the elections. The result was that only one candidate out of the elected MPs could be labeled as being in the opposition. My guess is that the FH experts just put this indicator into their equation—and the result was that democracy is in decline in Karabagh. FH clearly did not have time to dig deeper and realize that in reality the main opposition forces in Karabagh had simply been unwilling to contest the elections. Perhaps they weren’t ready to effectively participate in the elections, and simply chose the easiest way in the political process: to stay away from the elections, and later criticize the government and the new parliament.
On the other hand, certain democratic improvements in the electoral code went into effect in the NKR before the 2010 general elections. The general threshold for political parties and for political blocs was lowered from 10 to 6 percent and from 15 to 8 percent, respectively, thus increasing the chances for relatively small political units to effectively contest general elections.
In short, the result indicated in the FH report is more about technical problems in FH assessments than a real setback in democracy in Karabagh. Still, I am not ready to challenge the impartiality of the FH, since it is recognized as the most established democracy and human rights monitor in the world. I hope they will soon review their assessment. The Permanent Representative of the NKR in Washington, Ambassador R. Avetisyan, has already sent them a letter on the matter, with a comprehensive presentation of the political map of Karabagh.