PACE report adds to mixed reviews of Armenian Parliamentary Elections.

On May 24, Baroness Emma Nicholson, Chairperson of the ad hoc committee for the Observation of the 6 May Parliamentary Elections in Armenia, presented the findings of the mission to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in Tirana.

Noting the electoral campaign was “vibrant, competitive, and largely peaceful”, the report highlights several issues observed leading up to and during the election, notably the general distrust of the election process as a whole. Issues raised include: inaccuracies in the voter lists, voter intimidation, voting and vote counting procedures, as well as the issuance of passports to facilitate fraud, vote buying and deficiencies in complaint and appeal mechanisms.

The International Electoral Observation Mission (IEOM), composed of observers from PACE, the European Parliament, OSCE/ODIHR and OSCE/PA, visited 1,000 out of 1,982 polling stations in and around Yerevan, Armavir, Ejmiatsin, Aragatsotn, Shirak, Vanadzor, Ararat and Vayotz Dzor on 6 May 2012.

PROGRESS

The process leading up to the elections was reported as “administered in an overall professional and efficient manner.” The report cites that parties and voters received the necessary information before the polls opened and that both the Central Election Commission (CEC) and the 41 Territorial Election Commissions (TECs) were accessible to stakeholders. Furthermore, the ad hoc committee welcomed the reform that CEC and TEC members were no longer appointed based on party nominations.

The report cites three particular areas of progress in Armenia: the guarantee by the Armenian Constitution of the fundamental rights and freedoms for democratic elections; the inclusive candidate registration process (with only one violent incident recorded), and the general balance provided by the major media networks to all major candidates with regard to both free and paid broadcasts.

Concerns remained, however, regarding lengthy citizenship and residency requirements for candidates and the disenfranchisement of prisoners; both inconsistent with international standards.

CONCERNS RAISED

 The Voter Lists: Compiled by the Passport and Visa office of the Police and accessible for public scrutiny both online and in polling stations, the report emphasises the deep level of distrust amongst the public with regard to the voter lists.

The report stresses that the Armenian authorities did not “take all necessary steps”, as previously advised by the Venice Commission, to compile accurate voter lists. Opposition parties expressed strong concerns regarding the quality of the voter lists pointing to the “inflated numbers, inclusion of deceased people, [and] high numbers of voters registered at the same [sometimes inexistent] address.”

Despite demographic indicators signalling the decrease in the Armenian population since the 2008 presidential election, the voter lists represented an increase of 157,000.

Voter Intimidation: The report notes the observation of several cases of voter intimidation in polling stations, stating that “[o]bservers felt that the generalised intimidation of voters […] was the result of a deliberate and well orchestrated action from the parties of the ruling coalition.”

Instances of intimidation included persons with unidentifiable affiliations (badges reading “MaxInfo”) continuously filming voters “in an extremely intrusive manner,” inside polling stations as well as organised groups of 10 to 15 young men, dressed in black, at the entrances of polling stations. The report states, “[s]uch persons were observed approaching voters arriving at the polling station and whispering to them before they entered.”

Voting and Polling Stations: Regarding voting procedures, ten percent of observed polling stations were negatively assessed. Using ODIHR statistics, the report cites “a percentage higher than 10% means an election day with high concern.”

Other issues in polling stations included, general disorganisation, party proxies taking control of the polling station, violations of voting procedures, as well as the failure of the special ink to mark the passports of those who had voted.

Observers witnessed family and group voting, a lack of vote secrecy especially in small polling stations, persons assisting the elderly vote, and identical signatures on voting lists. In some instances, proxies from the ruling parties “were observed instructing voters how to vote, even showing them where to put the mark.”

IEOM teams negatively assessed the vote counting procedure in one fifth of polling stations observed. The presence of unauthorised persons was noted in several instances as well as isolated occurrences of ballot box stuffing and falsification of the results.

Other issues raised by the report include the issuance of passports to facilitate fraud, vote buying and the non-compliance by political parties with regulations concerning campaign materials and the use of public funds.

The report also expresses concern regarding the weak implementation of the complaints and appeals mechanisms. According to the report, the majority of the complaints brought to the CEC or to the TECs were dismissed on technical grounds without “due consideration of the claim’s substance of evidence.”

RECOMMENDATIONS

The PACE report concludes that the Armenian authorities failed to ensure accurate voting lists and the absence of pressure on voters. The report recommends the Armenian authorities urgently address the issue of inaccurate voter lists and allow persons living abroad to vote, so as to dispel concerns about the misuse of this vote. To ensure both political parties and the general electorate have confidence in the political process, the ad hoc committee urges Armenia to act immediately to correct these discrepancies ahead of the 2013 presidential elections.

The report of the PACE Mission observing the Armenian Parliamentary Elections is available here.