WASHINGTON, DC (RFE/RL) — The Washington-based rights group Freedom House praised the “velvet revolution” in Armenia and “markedly freer and fairer” elections which followed it, in an annual report on global democracy released on Tuesday.

The Freedom In the World 2019 report lists Armenia among a handful of countries where “positive breakthroughs” were registered last year. They show that “democracy has enduring appeal as a means of holding leaders accountable and creating the conditions for a better life,” it says.

“Entrenched elites in many Eurasian countries continued exploiting the advantages of incumbency to maintain their grip on power,” reads the report. “However, Armenia broke that pattern with the ouster of an unpopular leader and the election of a new, reform-minded government.”

“In the spring of 2018, Armenians took to the streets in protest of an attempt by Serzh Sarkisian to extend his rule by shifting from the presidency to the prime minister’s office,” it says. “To widespread surprise, the protests culminated in Sarkisian’s resignation and the rise of opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan to the premiership. Pashinyan’s My Step alliance decisively won snap parliamentary elections in December, clearing the way for systemic reforms.”

The polls were “markedly freer and fairer than elections in previous years,” added Freedom House.

Accordingly, the watchdog gave Armenia higher scores in various categories of political rights and civil liberties. Still, it continued to rank the South Caucasus states as “partly free” alongside other former Soviet states such as Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.

Armenia’s three other neighbors — Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran — as well as Russia were rated “not free.”

The report says that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev both won new presidential terms in 2018 through election campaigns that benefited from “strong-arm tactics that included the repression of independent media and civil society, the abuse of state resources, and the persecution of genuine political opponents — as well as outright fraud.”

It also says that the United States in 2018 saw “a decline in the rule of law” that put American democracy “on a level with Greece, Croatia, and Mongolia,” and well below other long-standing democracies like Germany and Britain.

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