Armenia’s voters list causes controversy.

The voters list has once more emerged as one of the main problems connected with Armenian elections. Opposition activists accuse the Armenian government of artificially inflating the voter’s list by several hundred thousand voters as part of organised election fraud. The issue is somewhat more complicated, but many questions remain.

On 25 April 2012 the Armenian Passports and Visas Department (PVD) of the Armenian Police, the entity that is responsible to compile the country’s election list, published the names of those entitled to vote in the May 6 elections. The list had 2,482,238 names. After some adjustments in the days prior to the elections, the final election list on the eve of the election included 2,484,003 names.

This figure immediately triggered an outcry from opposition parties who questioned how there could be in 2012 more than 150,000 additional voters in Armenia then in 2008, when it was common knowledge that the population of the country had decreased as a result of outward migration during the recent economic crisis.

Population figures are a very sensitive issue in Armenia. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union twenty years ago the population of the country has decreased according to most sources. Successive Armenian governments have tried to hide this fact, seeing it not only as a sign of political failure, but also as a sign of national weakness. At one point the government even banned the publication of the figures of the importation of floor, since it was thought that from those figures one could deduct the number of people living in the country. The issue is more complicated because a large number of Armenians move to Russia for parts of the year for seasonal work. Others lead a double life, having one home in Armenia and another in the Georgian region of Javakheti. Compiling an electoral list in such circumstances is not easy.

However suspicion of potential vote rigging started emerging when the media began carrying colourful reports of hundreds of people registered in one house or flat, of people living in buildings that have been demolished, and generally of people on the list who should not be there.

In an effort to reduce the risk of fraud a number of opposition members of parliament petitioned the Constitutional Court, asking that the names of those who voted be made public after the election. The Court denied the request on the basis that it needed to protect the rights of citizens who may not want to make the fact that they had voted or not made public.

The issue continued to remain controversial after the elections with many opposition figures citing it as one example of why they considered the election not fair.

The Director of the OSCE office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rigfhts (ODIHR) monitong the election process at a polling station in Yerevan on 6 May 2012.

The OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission in its preliminary report issued the day after the election stated that

In the run-up to the elections, concerns about the quality of the voter register were expressed by most parties, adding to the general lack of confidence in the electoral process. They alleged that deficiencies in the register, such as inflated numbers, inclusion of deceased people and high numbers of voters registered at the same address, might be manipulated on Election Day. They also raised questions regarding citizens living abroad, and the increase in the number of registered voters by some 157,000 since the 2008 presidential election.

The report further noted that

“The Electoral Code provides voter registration on election day, which is contrary to good practice.”

This is not the first time that the voter’s list became an issue in Armenian elections and after previous elections the Venice Commission, a body of the Council of Europe that advises on legal and electoral matters, had made strong representations to the Armenian government to improve the voters list through better co-ordination between different bodies involved in the process of voter’s registration and by stopping the practice of voter’s registration on election day. A country with a small population like Armenia should have no excuse for not having an accurate voters list.

According to the statistics given by the Armenian Central Elections Commission the day following the vote, the number of actual voters was 1,574,430 or 62.26% of those on the list, which by the time the number of people who were not on the list, but were allowed to vote on election day were added, now totaled 2,524,960.

The full preliminary report of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission to Armenia is available here.

source: LINKS Analysis