Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Caucasus Report

Was Armenia’s Parliamentary Election A Step Backward?

Armenia's parliamentary elections on May 6 were plagued by numerous violations and glitches.
Armenia's parliamentary elections on May 6 were plagued by numerous violations and glitches.
Over the past year, Armenia’s President Serzh Sarkisian repeatedly affirmed that he was intent on ensuring that the May 6 parliamentary ballot would be the most democratic in Armenia’s post-Soviet history.

Armenia’s foreign partners wholeheartedly supported that intention. U.S. Ambassador John Heffern told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service last fall that Washington was working with Yerevan to ensure that the 2012 parliamentary ballot and the presidential election in 2013 would be "the best elections ever and fully consistent with international standards."

The May 6 parliamentary ballot failed, however, to measure up to those expectations. Indeed, in two key respects it appears to have been more seriously flawed than the previous parliamentary election in 2007.

True, all eight parties and one bloc that sought to register succeeded in doing so, and were able to campaign freely.

But, as the International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) noted in a press release on May 7, pressure on voters by local officials from Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and election commissions’ dismissal of many appeals and complaints "created an unequal playing field." 

There were numerous reports of vote-buying by the HHK.  Purportedly charitable activities by its coalition partner Prosperous Armenia (BH), including the distribution of some 500 tractors in rural areas by a company owned by BH chairman Gagik Tsarukian, were seen by international election monitors as incompatible with the new electoral code.

Inaccurate Electoral Rolls

In addition, continued problems arising from inaccurate electoral rolls compounded voters' lack of trust in the fairness of the election process.

On behalf of the Inter-Party Center for Public Oversight of the Elections established by BH, the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (HHD), 28 members of the outgoing parliament appealed late last month to Armenia’s Constitutional Court to lift the ban on publishing lists after the elections of those voters who cast ballots.

The Court rejected that appeal on May 5.

Numerous procedural violations and glitches were reported on polling-day, including overcrowding at polling stations and what one international monitor described as "less than productive" attempts by domestic observers or proxies from the various opposition parties to assume duties that are the prerogative of precinct commission personnel.

At one polling station in Kotayk province, a precinct official invalidated ballot papers filled out by persons he suspected of voting for a party other than the HHK by placing them in the wrong ballot box. (Each voter was required to complete one ballot paper for the majoritarian candidate in his constituency and one for the nationwide party-list vote. They were to be deposited in separate ballot boxes.)

Disappearing Ink

The most publicized and potentially the most damaging glitch was the use of ink that faded within minutes to mark voters' passports to preclude multiple voting; it was supposed to disappear only after 12 hours. (Polling stations were open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.).

Central Election Commission Chairman Tigran Mukuchian's explanation that the ink faded only because the bottle had not been shaken vigorously before use was immediately shown to be spurious.

These problems with marking passports led the Inter-Party Center for Public Oversight of the Elections to release a statement while voting was still going on; saying that the legality of the poll was under threat.

The preliminary assessment by the IEOM was equivocal. It acknowledged the "open and peaceful campaign," but added that "several stakeholders" failed to comply with the revamped election law.

Specifically, it noted "organizational problems, undue interference in the process and cases of significant violations … in a significant number of polling stations visited."

Observers from the IEOM visited almost 1,000 polling stations in the course of the day, and gave a negative assessment of the voting that took place at 10 percent of them.  By contrast, in 2007, the IEOM described voting as "good or very good" at 94 percent of polling stations visited.

The vote count too was also assessed negatively this time in "almost one fifth" of the 102 polling stations where observers were present, compared with 17 percent in 2007.

Positive Spin

HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov sought to put a positive spin on the observers' evaluation.

He told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that the negative assessment of the voting in 10 percent of the polling stations visited means that the vote was "flawless" in 90 percent of the 1,982 polling stations.

Preliminary results of the vote suggest that the HHK has increased its share of the parliament mandates, even though the three coalition members had signed a formal pledge in February 2011 not to seek to do so at each others' expense.

The HHK had 62 of the 131 mandates in the outgoing parliament. It has reportedly won in 32 of the 41 single-mandate constituencies, in addition to garnering 44.05 percent of the proportional vote. That translates into at least 40 of the 90 mandates allocated under the party-list system, giving a total of at least 72.

BH, which has 22 mandates in the outgoing parliament, is in second place with 30 percent of the proportional vote plus seven single-mandate constituencies.

The opposition HAK polled 7.07 percent of the proportional vote, winning parliamentary representation for the first time. The opposition Heritage party garnered 5.75 percent; the HHD received 5.69 percent; and the Law-Based State part, the third member of the ruling coalition, got 5.49 percent. All three were represented in the outgoing parliament.

The Communist Party of Armenia, the Democratic Party of Armenia and the United Armenians Party failed to get the minimum 5 percent of the proportional vote to qualify for parliamentary representation.

Voter turnout was measured at 62.2 percent, 10 percent higher than in 2007.

The Inter-Party Center for Public Oversight of the Elections has still not commented on the election outcome, possibly because the Central Election Commission has not yet made public the final results.

But senior HAK member Levon Zurabian branded the ballot "disgraceful," accusing the authorities of "resorting to the full range of falsifications" to remain in power.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: John Harduny from: Reston, VA, USA
May 08, 2012 19:51
The International Election Observation Mission's note says clearly that the elections were a step forward. Concerns remain and they should be addressed. But the main problem is that the West is not interested in true democracy in the "strategically important" Caucasus region where oil is king. It will always promote corrupt semi-democracy. True democracy would make local leaders immune to Western criticism and manipulations, something that the West tries to avoid. The local pseudo-democrats and dictators have a deal with the West. It is a corrupt, disgraceful game, where local leaders, Washington and Brussels conspire against the citizens of the Caucasus.

by: someone
May 09, 2012 01:31
Was the election perfect? No, Was it a step backward? Only an idiot would suggest something like that. The truth is that the authorities and the oligarchs used all the possible levers to influence the final outcome but they are not responsible for Ter-Petrosian's failure. Ter-Petrosian lost most of his supporters due to his negative campaigning methods, people are just tired of his venomous words. For the first time in the history of the republic of Armenia, all the political parties were given the opportunity to equally use media i.e. Television to present their programs, their were no reports of massive ballot stuffing and although there were some problems with the ink but lets not forget that the same ink was used for all the voters meaning it cannot be seen as an advantage for the authorities. Nevertheless, I don't expect the western states and their mouthpiece RFE/RL to acknowledge these facts as they are not really interested in democracy, they only use the elections in these countries to exert pressure on their governments, otherwise, they should have cut all their ties with SOME countries which are the embodiment of tyranny in the region years ago.

by: Shahen
May 09, 2012 13:54
May I ask what imbecile wrote this article? in what aspect was it a step backwards? On the contrary it was far from it. Opposition in Armenia have been losing their support all these years with their weak campaigning. Based on the actual outcome it was a step forward as compared to previous years. This RFE/RL newspaper agency is probably the most biased and idiotic paper I have came across. Let the observers do their job and quit being a tool of the west because you could care less about democracy. Why don't you go worry about "president" or dictator Aliyev who is next door?

by: Someone else
May 09, 2012 15:52
West is trying very hard to stir up the situation. Leave Armenia to the Armenians! No Levon and No Raffi!!!!!!!

by: Robert from: Yerevan
May 09, 2012 17:17
Many democratic Armenians actually prefer to return Karabakh to Azerbaijan and settle the conflict. It doesnt matter who's in charge in Yerevan, the corrupt Karabakh-clan uses the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to create hatred against Azerbaijan. This allows the Karabakh-clan to remain in power. Ter-Petrosiyan predicted in 1999 that keeping Karabakh would doom Armenia. Well its true now. The majority of our borders are closed and the Georgian-Russian borders are closed aswell. Armenian trade and economy is a joke. The country is sustained by remittances from Russia, US and France. This is not how a modern state operates, its utterly embarrassing for us! The solution is cooperation with neighbours and integration in the new upcoming Silk-Road project. Armenian people were already excluded many other regional projects that brought benefit to Georgia and Azerbaijan. The Silk Road is our last chance to integrate and fix our country. To get access to the Silk Road we need to fix the Artsakh conflict with Azerbaijan. If we must let go of Artsakh to save Armenia then be so. Blind nationalism will be our undoing. I think its more important to look at the bigger picture. I say forget Artsakh and focus on OUR country. Lets take Yerevan back in our own hands! And lets destroy corruption and monopolies and promote democracy, freedom and cooperation!
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
May 10, 2012 07:45
Hi, Robert, you are right, of course, that "the majority of <Armenia's> borders are closed and the Georgian-Russian borders are closed as well". But I would say that this is no reason to argue that BECAUSE OF THIS Armenia necessarily needs to give something up. The state of relations between Georgia and Russia is unquestionably very bad, but in the long run they can only improve: Saakashvili is supported by NATO as their stooge whose task it is to annoy Russia occasionally - at the expense of the national interests of Georgia. This strategy can pay off for some time but not forever. In due course (which could take a few months, a few years or a few decades) this situation will change and Saakashvili will depart which will result into better relations between the two countries, opening of borders between them and into better economic prospects for Armenia.
In Response

by: Tigran
May 11, 2012 11:06
Your comment sounds like a strategically placed anti-Armenian comment. Although people in Armenia might complain about the situation that the country has been in because of illegal blockades from two directions, very few people in Armenia would seriously be in favor of abandoning Karabakh for the sake of appeasing the Azeris and Turks who could very easily close the borders again on a whim when they please. Giving up Karabakh would be to go from a position of strength to one of defeat, to put a significant Armenian population under an Azeri regime which makes no secret of it's hatred of Armenians and will stop at nothing to hurt us. Artsakh is our country, Artsakh and a democratic Armenia are not mutually exclusive.
In Response

by: greg from: virginia
May 17, 2012 15:26
Robert. Assuming you really are armenian, and that you understand the essence of the right of self-determination, then you should know better than to suggest that Karabagh is yours / ours to give back. The people of Karabagh are the only ones vested with the right to "give" themselves to Azerbaijan, Armenia, or to remain independent. And last i checked with my friends in Karabagh, they are satisfied with freedom and independence that was hard-one. They are not interested in giving themselves to anybody. Kudos to them. Armenians like you or I have no stake in their future, no business telling them what to do, and you and I won't suffer the consequences if their territory gets re-absorbed by an Azeri government that practices institutionalized Armeno-phobia in its curriculum of public education and state social institutions (museums, monuments, historical "archives"). As we are saying to the Azeri government, and as we should practice ourselves, leave them be. Done means Done.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.