The Carousel of elections that have followed one after the other in Armenia came to an end on Sunday, 5 May with the holding of municipal elections to elect the City Council of the Armenian Capital, Yerevan. The election came closely on the heels of Parliamentary elections a year ago and Presidential elections in February. Observers noted that Sunday’s elections were unusually tense for local elections which often attract much less interest and are less hardly fought than the national elections. This time round, a number of opposition forces determined to break the monopoly of power of the ruling party put considerable effort in trying to obtain a majority on the city council.
The governing Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) of President Serzh Sargsyan however put up a spirited defence and gained a large absolute majority on the city council. Of the six parties represented in the Armenian Parliament only three managed to pass the 6% threshold and gain seats on the City Council: the RPA, as well as Prosperous Armenia and the Barev Bloc led by Raffi Hovannesian.
According to Dennis Sammut, Director of LINKS Analysis, “the victory of his party in the Yerevan election is an important psychological moment for the Armenian President.”
“Sargsyan, like his predecessor Robert Kocharian, hails from Nagorno-Karabakh and has sometimes felt an outsider in the urban environment of Yerevan where the influence of the so-called “Karabakh Clans” is often resented. On the other hand other politicians such as Levon Ter-Petrossian and Vartan Oscanian have always felt that Yerevan was their traditional power base. In as much as the election is a reflection of Yerevan opinion this mould has now been broken. The question is at what cost?
Election fraud through methods such as carousel voting is easier to organise in urban areas yet the impression of the Armenian electorate being herded like sheep in support of the ruling elite in return for small favours has now become a resented but regular feature of Armenian politics.
Barring some unexpected development Armenians will not have to go back to the polls for another four years. This is a long time in politics and many hope that this time will be enough for a new political maturity to set in. Many Armenians despair of their politicians and hope that a new generation of voters may be enough to force the change that is necessary.”
The preliminary results published by the Armenian Central Elections Commission are as follows:
Republican Party of Armenia – 55.86% (235,512 votes)
Prosperous Armenia Party – 23.05% (97,189)
“Barev [Hello], Yerevan” bloc – 8.47% (35,732)
Armenian National Congress Party – 4.39% (18,499)
ARF Dashnaktsutyun Party – 3.79% (15,999)
Orinats Yerkir Party (Rule of Law) – 3.73% (15,733)
Arakelutyun Party – 0.64% (2,692)
There were very mixed reactions to the election results from the different political forces, as well as from groups that had monitored the poll.
Heritage Party/Barev Bloc
“Yerevan Mayor election of May 5 ended in another victory of money and administrative resources” according to the Secretary of Heritage Party Board Stepan Safaryan.
“Elections were conducted in terrible conditions where dissemination of ideas and political capital had no significance. Something similar was observed at the last parliamentary elections when the authorities were delivering voters to polling stations on all sorts of vehicles. Thousands of citizens were told from ‘above’ to ensure specific quantity of votes in favour of the Republicans and bring specific number of voters to polling stations. On May 5 the authorities and not the Election Commissions ran the election,” Safaryan said.
The Barev Bloc led by Heritage Party leader Rafi Hovannesian is one of the three political forces that will be represented on the City Council.
Orinats Yerkir Party
There was disappointment in the Orinats Yerkir Party after it came last from amongst the six parties represented in parliament in the Yerevan poll but the party put a brave face in its post-election statement congratulating the three political forces elected to the Yerevan Council. In its statement the party underlined that the elections were marked with mass voter bribery. The party highlights also the influence of the local criminal authorities creating atmosphere of fear among citizens on the voting result. Orinats Yerkir had been warning of this throughout the voting process, the statement says. “Nevertheless, the elections and their outcome are a fact, and we thank all voters who supported Orinats Yerkir,” the party said.
Earlier, the head of the Orinats Yerkir Party Campaign Headquarters Khachik Haroutiunyan said that the party was not expecting the result it achieved in the polls. The Party is a junior partner in the current governing coalition in Armenia.
Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun (ARFD)
The consequences of the Republican Party’s authoritarian rule will be seen soon, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun (ARFD) said in its reaction
“Our goal was to try to change the moral-psychological atmosphere in Armenia and to convince our people that their country has a future. We tried to prove that the RPA’s monopoly had to be stopped. But the ruling party did its best to retain its rule over Yerevan and Armenia, and the consequences of this will be seen very soon. We regret that this time too we have failed to convince people that they were free to choose. We will not depart from our principles and will continue our efforts to achieve improvements in the country,” said the ARFD Statement
The Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP)
In a terse statement, the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP) thanked citizens who took part in the May 5 elections to the Elders’ Council of Yerevan for their confidence.
PAP also expressed its thanks to all the citizens that gave their votes to the PAP and laid the responsibility for the further political processes and elaboration of new projects on the PAP. “The mass media and observers have fixed how the elections were conducted, several dozens of protocols have been prepared, special opinions have been written. The elections demonstrated that the electoral process needs to be reformed”, the statement says.
PAP came second in the elections but has been accused of using some of the same tactics of the ruling party in order to boost its vote. There were many reports that PAP activists were offering bribes of 20000 Drams to voters on election day.
Armenian National Congress
Yerevan’s city council election matched the previous elections conducted by the ruling regime in terms of election violations, according to a statement issued by the Armenian National Congress.
“The outrageous election violations that have already become traditional were of sweeping scale throughout the whole city: buying votes, directed voting by neighbourhood and pro-RPA gangs, multiple voting, election ‘carousels’, voting in place of absentees, ballot stuffing, crowding in polling stations, intimidation etc.” “The capital city council election was yet another crime of the ruling regime against democracy and the people of Armenian, for which the ruling political force and its bosses will certainly be held criminally responsible,” the statement concludes.
Republican Party of Armenia
There was an upbeat reaction to the elections from the Republican Party of Armenia, the country’s ruling party which emerged as a clear winner in the election. “The Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) has received a vote of confidence”, the head of the RPA campaign headquarters Eduard Sharmazanov told reporters, summing up the Yerevan elections. The citizens of Armenia’s capital once again proved they trust RPA and see the work the party has carried out. “We have secured as many as 235,000 votes, which is a great responsibility. We have no alternative but to work for better Yerevan, and we will do all we can for achieving this goal. The results of the elections have proved that our people trust us and see we have done a lot for the city, and this time we will do even more than we have done so far,” Sharmazanov said.
Earlier Sharmazanov condemned all the violations recorded during the voting process no matter who committed them. “The police were very quick and efficient in responding to them, which proves that in Armenia transparent elections have already become an irreversible process,” Sharamzanov said.
Civil Society largely critical
Avetik Ishkhanian, Chairman of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia, which observed the elections to Yerevan’s Council of Elders, reported crowds of people and buses bringing people, who were later “guided” in voting, while the police remained neutral when he spoke at a Press Conference on the day after the poll.
“Observers were under pressure, and numerous instances of unknown people present at polling stations were reported”. “The elections do not at all meet the democratic standards,” he said. Representatives of a number of NGOs that observed the election process were present at the press conference and largely shared Ishkhanian’s opinion.
Sona Aivazyan, Head of the Transparency International Anti-corruption Center, noted that “disgraceful elections have once again been reported in Armenia.”
The respected Armenian analyst Richard Giragosian wrote on his facebook page on Sunday after the polls closed
“Today’s municipal election in the Armenian capital Yerevan has been marred by widespread voting irregularities, electoral violations and outright vote buying, election observers report. After a similarly flawed presidential election in February, this election represents yet another “missed opportunity” for progress in democratization and improved elections in Armenia.
Although the incumbent Republican Party is expected to maintain its majority in the 65-seat city council, the conduct of today’s poll was a serious setback and is likely to inflict renewed damage to the country’s aspirations for democratic credentials.
This race features candidates form party lists of six political parties and one electoral bloc, seeking to pass the threshold of winning at least 6 percent of the vote in order to secure a presence in the city council or “Council of Elders.” In an indirect election, the city council will later vote for the Yerevan mayor, most likely to be returning Mayor Taron Markarian.
Sadly, May 5 is yet another disappointing day for Armenia and the population of Yerevan.”