In spite of improvements, elections failed to fulfill expectations
Parliamentary elections on Sunday 6 May was the country’s first elections since the disputed 2008 Presidential elections that led to strong protests and eight persons being killed by security forces. – There were a few improvements from previous elections, but abuse of administrative resources and pressure on voters remained a serious problem, says Lene Wetteland, Advisor who observed Sunday’s election. – Authorities had promised that elections would be conducted according to international standards. But if you are told that your job depends on supporting the President’s party, you stop believing in such promises, she continues.
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, says Wetteland. – The infamous 4 May concert that ended with about 150 youth being hospitalized 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.
The voting was carried out in a more or less quite atmosphere. There are 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.
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 via telephones and jam to 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’ list also gave reason for concern. Some suspected that an inflated voter’s list was made by the ruling Republican Party as a safeguard to ensure that it kept a strong position in the Parliament, to ensure 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.
According to preliminary results, the Republican Party got 44% of the votes, while the Prosperous Armenia Party got 30%. Four other parties, including former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s Armenian National Congress party, barely passed the 5% threshold. As a result, the new Parliament will remain with the same party blocs as the current one.
– Even though political parties could rally freely, media coverage were 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, concludes Wetteland. – Abuse of administrative resources and pressure on the electorate to support the Republican Party undermines popular confidence in the democratic processes.