Domestic observers find elections non-free and accompanied by wide-spread control of voters

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee was part of the EPDE mission to Armenia during the 2017 Parliamentary elections, working together with Armenian partners from the Independent Observers Public Alliance and Citizen Observer.

– Unfortunately, despite certain technical improvements in legislation and procedures, the fundament for free and fair elections was absent also this time, said NHC’s Armenia senior adviser Lene Wetteland. This is mainly due to widespread abuse of administrative resources and intimidation of voters in the period leading up to voting day, accompanied by severe violations of the secrecy of the vote in polling stations.

The European Platform for Democratic Elections was also present during the 2015 referendum over constitutional amendments that were to make Armenia a parliamentary republic, and criticised both the conduct and the result. The elections on 2 April 2017 were the first parliamentary elections under the new system, following amendments also to the electoral code regarding both procedures and fundamental principles.

Some of the amendments included elements that were aimed at raising confidence in the process through publishing of the voters’ lists after elections, electronic voter registration equipment and monitoring cameras. However, even if these amendments might have prevented some of the most blatant cases of ballot stuffing and carousel voting on voting day, it also meant that the intensity and type of fraud adapted and increased in the period before. Many voters experienced severe intimidation, threats and abuse in order to vote for the ruling Republican Party or the second largest Tsarukyan Bloc, others were offered bribes for their votes.

On voting day, control of voting was widespread through abuse of the possibility to assist voters, violation of the secrecy of the vote, and intimidation by persons without authorised access to the polling station. There were also several incidents where the cameras stopped functioning.

Domestic observers and activists underline that it is important to pay attention to the elections also after voting day – when complaints are to be formally submitted and processed, and observers carry on with their work. Already, the voters lists were not published as promised in due time to prepare complaints before the deadline, and it has proven very difficult to obtain the recordings from the cameras.

In addition, one of the most central actors in the domestic observer network, Daniel Ioannisyan and the Union of Informed Citizens, has recently been sued by directors of 30 public schools and kindergartens after exposing their involvement in the abuse of administrative resources in convincing staff and family to vote for the Republican Party. Such information was gathered and submitted to the investigation services, but it was not followed up by the appropriate authorities. Ioannisyan and other actors clearly see the lawsuit as retaliation for his critical comments, and the NHC encourages the authorities to investigate all complaints related to the elections and allegations of election fraud in a fair and objective manner.

Please see the conclusion by Independent Observers Public Alliance here and update on the post-electoral complaints here.