Two reports published in the last few days analyse the outcome of the Parliamentary elections. The OSCE/ODIHR published the final report of its Election Observation Mission with detailed recommendations of things that need to happen before the February elections if they are to be considered up to international standards. On its part, the International Crisis Group in a separate report also looks at both the past and forthcoming elections but says that at the next elections there is more at stake than simply who is going to be the next President of Armenia. “The country needs a better future than a stunted economy and dead-end conflicts with neighbours.”
The OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission has released the final report of its observation of the May elections in which it highlights a number of recommendations which it says should be taken into account prior to the next poll. The report states:
“Following an invitation from the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) deployed on 22 March 2012 an Election Observation Mission (EOM) for the 6 May 2012 parliamentary elections in Armenia. The OSCE/ODIHR EOM assessed compliance of the election process with OSCE commitments, and other international standards for democratic elections, as well as with domestic legislation. For election day, the OSCE/ODIHR EOM joined forces with delegations of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the European Parliament (EP), issuing a joint Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions.
The elections, which were held under an improved legal framework, were characterized by a competitive, vibrant and largely peaceful campaign, which was, however, marked by a low level of confidence in the integrity of the process. Some violations of campaign provisions by electoral contestants, including the use of administrative resources and attempts to limit voters’ freedom of choice, created an unequal playing field and ran counter to OSCE commitments. The elections were administered in an overall professional and transparent manner prior to election day. Election day was generally calm and peaceful, although organizational problems and undue interference in the process, mostly by party representatives, were observed. Deficiencies in the complaints and appeals process were cause for concern.
The elections were held under a new Electoral Code, which provides a generally solid framework for the conduct of democratic elections. It contains a number of improvements, but a number of substantive shortcomings remain to be addressed. The implementation of the Electoral Code fell short, both in letter and spirit, in ensuring an equal playing field for campaigning and protecting voters from undue influence.
The election administration, headed by the Central Election Commission (CEC), administered the elections in an overall professional and efficient manner. Some conflicting guidance and the lack of clarification by the CEC of some important aspects resulted in inconsistent implementation of procedures, such as the inking procedure against possible multiple voting. The CEC and Territorial Election Commissions (TECs) worked in an open and transparent manner, and generally enjoyed the trust of the representatives of parliamentary parties at the regional level.
Many contestants questioned the accuracy and quality of the voter register and voter lists, claiming they were open to abuse on election day. While the authorities took numerous steps to improve the accuracy of voter lists, additional efforts and better co-ordination among government institutions are required for further improvement.
Candidate registration was inclusive, and very few prospective candidates were rejected. It was problematic that the CEC took no steps to define the five-year residency requirement for candidates and to establish clear and objective procedures for its certification. The 20 per cent gender quota for proportional lists was met, although the effectiveness of the quota is limited as candidates may withdraw after a list has been registered. There is no requirement for the original gender proportions to be maintained. Women account for only 11 per cent of all elected Members of Parliament (MPs).
The election campaign was vibrant, competitive and largely peaceful, with a few isolated violent incidents. Electoral Code provisions aimed at ensuring equal opportunities for all contestants with regard to campaign venues and poster space were generally respected. At the same time, the campaign was marked by lack of confidence by the public and many stakeholders in the integrity of the electoral process and allegations of electoral malpractice, especially vote buying.
There were cases of misuse of administrative resources, especially mixing of campaigning and official duties by education-sector employees, and cases where the governing Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) actively involved teachers and pupils in campaign events. The Prosperous Armenia party and one RPA candidate violated the Electoral Code provision that prohibits contestants and associated charitable organizations from providing or promising goods and services to voters. The misuse of administrative resources, including human resources of education-sector employees, violated the Electoral Code and contributed to an unequal playing field for political contestants, contravening paragraph 7.7 of the OSCE 1990 Copenhagen Document. Campaign financing rules have been strengthened and were largely respected but would benefit from further improvement.
The media overall met their obligation to provide free and paid airtime and ensure non-discriminatory conditions and unbiased news coverage of contestants during the official campaign period. Nonetheless, the OSCE/ODIHR EOM noted cases of bias toward certain parties in some private media, which contradict the principle of unbiased coverage set by the Electoral Code, and cases where campaign materials produced by parties were presented as news items by some private broadcasters, which undermined the credibility and independence of media reporting and deprived viewers of independent reporting.
Some 27,000 domestic observers from 54 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were accredited by the CEC. At the same time, a narrow and literal interpretation of the applicable legal provision resulted in the rejection of a number of NGOs. Only four of the registered NGOs produced post-election reports on their findings. The Electoral Code provision requiring testing by the CEC of citizens wishing to be domestic observers remains a concern.
The legal framework unduly restricts the right to file election-related complaints. This and the manner in which election commissions and courts dealt with election complaints often left stakeholders without effective consideration of their claims, contravening paragraph 5.10 of the OSCE 1990 Copenhagen Document and Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Election commissions and courts in general took an overly formalistic approach to handling complaints, frequently dismissing complaints on technicalities or without examining their core substance or relevant evidence. In some cases, legally unsound decisions were issued. The prosecutor general’s office and the police were transparent in their follow-up activities on reported violations but launched few criminal investigations in election-related cases and often rejected opening criminal cases on spurious grounds.
Election day was calm and peaceful overall. The voting process was orderly and well organized in the large majority of polling stations observed. However, international observers assessed voting negatively in nine per cent of polling stations, which is considerable. This assessment was mainly due to organizational problems, undue interference in the process, generally by proxies, and cases of serious violations, including intimidation of voters. One fifth of observed vote counts were assessed negatively, mainly due to procedural problems, such as failure to perform basic reconciliation procedures, cases of non-transparent counts, problems completing the results protocols, and isolated cases of serious violations. The tabulation process at most TECs was assessed positively, although many TEC premises were overcrowded and inadequate. Several challenges to the validity of results were lodged to TECs, the CEC and the Constitutional Court, all of which were rejected at the time of this report.”
At the end the OSCE/ODIHR Mission lists 26 recommendations that it makes to the Armenian government. This, the report makes clear, is over and above other recommendations included in the reports of missions that have monitors previous elections in Armenia in the last years which have not yet been implemented.
The report states, “The following recommendations are offered for consideration by the authorities, political parties and civil society of Armenia, in further support of their efforts to conduct elections in line with OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections, as well as with domestic legislation. Many recommendations contained in the 2007 and 2008 OSCE/ODIHR EOM Final Reports and in the OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission Joint Legal Opinion of 2011, are also directly relevant for the 2012 parliamentary elections. The following recommendations are complementary to and should be considered and addressed together with those prior recommendations.
The OSCE/ODIHR stands ready to assist the authorities and civil society of Armenia to further improve the electoral process.”
“More at Stake than who will be the next President” in upcoming 2013 elections in Armenia, says International Crisis Group in report released at the end of June.
Noting the current Armenian President’s promise that the upcoming Presidential elections will be the “cleanest elections in Armenian history” the International Crisis Group (ICG) has released a report expressing the necessity in the country for legitimate elections in 2013.
Referring to the violence that left 10 people dead and another 450 injured following the controversial Presidential elections in 2008, ICG has called upon the Armenian authorities to take courageous steps to address issues that have fostered a lack of confidence in the electoral process in the country.
While acknowledging that the current administration has already taken some important measures to address corruption and promote a fairer political playing field, the international think tank echoed OECD comments that the modifications appear stronger on paper than they are in actuality.
The report highlights that firing corrupt officials is simply not enough; “offences should be prosecuted.” Crisis Group is especially concerned about the lack of criminal investigation and prosecution of state officials involved in the violence in 2008, citing that while other international organizations have deemed this incident to have blown over, ICG believes it is still a serious fault line for political tensions in the country.
Attributing slow implementation of political and economic reform to “weak political will and strong vested interests, as well as a culture that values family and clan ties over civic values,” the report emphasizes the need to address high-level corruption and a stagnant economy not only to consolidate democracy and public confidence internally, but also to foster peace and stability in the region.
In reference to conflicts with neighbouring Turkey and Azerbaijan, the report called for Armenia “to be fully engaged if there is to be progress in securing peace and stability in the South Caucasus – not distracted by deep domestic political conflict, institutional breakdown and lack of popular trust in the social contract.”
The report hailed the recent parliamentary elections in Armenia as “genuinely competitive” noting that media coverage was more balanced than in previous cycles and that respect for freedom of assembly, expression and movement were by and large upheld. This enabled the main opposition parties to truly participate and contest the elections for the first time in 10 years.
Nevertheless grave concerns were raised with regard to abuse of administrative resources during the campaign period, inflated voters’ lists, vote buying (ranging from gifts of potatoes and jam to tractors), the complete absence of redress for election violations, and incidents of multiple voting and voter intimidation at the polls.
Referring to recommendations made by Crisis Group following the 2008 Presidential elections, the report noted that improvements, notably the release of over 100 political prisoners in 2009 and 2011, as well as lifting the ban on political gatherings by the opposition, and the introduction of the “Emergency Law” in March 2012 which outlines in greater detail the role of security forces in times of emergency, were made under incumbent President Sargsyan.
However, the Crisis Group report highlights the deep level of distrust of government institutions in the country, stating that “a deeply dissatisfied population votes with its feet” citing the fact that over one million Armenians have left since independence. According to the report only 35% of Armenians “fully or somewhat trust” the president, and only 22% and 23% of the population has confidence in the judiciary and parliament, respectively.
Lawrence Sheets, Crisis Group’s Caucasus Project Director has said that another “seriously flawed” election “would further distract from peace talks and severe economic problems.”
ICG encourages the international community, primarily the United States and the European Union to not be timid in tying development aid to greater advances in governance and economic reform in Armenia.
Finally, the report sheds a glimpse of optimism with regard to the increased number of technocrats under the age of 40. These government officials, the report explains, have not been influenced by Soviet-style democracy, were educated mainly in the West, speak fluent English and appear to be more open to reform than their predecessors.
“The country,” continues the report, “needs a better future than a stunted economy and dead-end conflicts with neighbours.”
Report prepared for CEW by Karina Gould.