Armenian election fails to fulfill expectations
Parliamentary election on 6 May was Armenia’s first electoral campaign since the disputed 2008 Presidential race that led to massive protests and eight persons being killed by security forces. There were a few improvements as compared to the previous election, but abuse of administrative resources and pressure on voters remained a serious problem.
Tuesday, 15 May 2012, by HRH Oslo, Based on Norwegian Helsinki committee information
President Serge Sarkisian's party has won a majority of seats in the parliamentary election seen as a test of support ahead of next year's presidential vote. Results released on Monday show that the president's Republican Party won at least 68 of the parliament's 131 seats.
In the outgoing parliament, the Republican Party was a few seats shy of a majority and formed a coalition with the Prosperous Armenia party, which finished second in Sunday's election. The opposition Armenian National Congress finished a distant third.
Opposition supporters claimed that the February 2008 presidential election won by Sarkisian had been flawed. The protests turned violent in early March 2008, when clashes with the police left ten people dead and more than 250 injured.
The authorities promised that this year’s parliamentary elections would be conducted according to the international standards. “But if you are told that your job depends on supporting the President’s party, you stop believing in such promises”, says Lene Wetteland, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee advisor who observed the election.
Both media and political parties reported unprecedented equal campaigning possibilities. However, a major problem remained the use of state resources by the governing parties, in particular the Republican Party of President Serge Sarkisian. The infamous 4 May concert that ended with about 150 youth being hospitalised after gas balloons exploded is a case in point. It was a Republican Party rally, but hosted by the President of the Republic. The audience consisted mostly of state employees bussed in for the occasion, Wetteland continues.
The voting was carried out in a more or less quiet atmosphere. There were a few reports of carousel voting, bribing and incorrect voters’ lists, and in some polling stations the stamp that should prevent multiple voting disappeared after only one hour. There were also reports that some journalists were attacked. However, in general, electoral commissions did as good as they could to facilitate voting in accordance with the law.
Abuse of power: pressure on voters
The major irregularities took place long before Election Day. Authorities put pressure on school teachers, kindergarten staff, hospital staff and other public servants to attend rallies and support the Republican Party. Many of the candidates from a wide range of parties offered “gifts”, ranging from pens and lighters to telephones and jam, and even tractors. The Armenian Helsinki Committee reported that one woman was forced to step down from a Precinct Electoral Commission (PEC). Her children were threatened with being fired if she stayed on.
A very high number of voters on the voters’ lists also gave reason for concern. Some suspected that an inflated voters’ list was made by the ruling Republican Party as a safeguard to ensure that it kept a strong position in the Parliament, and that their coalition partner, the Prosperous Armenia Party, did not end up being too strong, and to have a backup to keep the other parties satisfied.
“Even though political parties could rally freely, media coverage was more balanced than in previous elections, and there were fewer reports on violations on Election Day, the Armenian authorities have not fully followed up on their promises to provide for free and fair elections, Abuse of administrative resources and pressure on the electorate to support the Republican Party undermines popular confidence in the democratic processes”, concludes Wetteland.
HRH Oslo, Based on Norwegian Helsinki committee information