Allegations of Vote Buying, Irregularities, and Violations
YEREVAN—Despite making allegations of large scale vote buying in favor of the Yerevan’s incumbent mayor before and during the March 14 Yerevan City Council Elections, Nikol Pashinyan and his opposition Yelk alliance have refused to challenge the outcome, reported RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The incumbent Taron Markaryan of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) pulled a landslide victory receiving 71 percent of the vote, while Yelk garnered 21 percent. The other opposition group Yerkir Tsirani led by Zaruhi Postanjyan received about eight percent and will alos be represented in Yerevan’s 65-seat City Council.
Based on the election results, the RPA will have 46 seats, Yelk will have 14, and Yerkir Tsirani will have 5.
“If we start a post-election process, will those people who accepted money for their votes or did not go to the polls at all come to Liberty Square?” said Pashinyan at a press conference on May 15. “If people wanted a post-election process, they should have come and voted [for us] and that would rather have been an election process in which people would have got the changes they had wanted.”
The Central Election Commission (CEC) stated that the voter turnout was at 41 percent, a considerable decrease from previous mayoral elections. A significantly larger number of Yerevan residents voted in Armenia’s Parliamentary Elections on April 2.
“The elections were competitive and democratic, and according to the preliminary results, the HHK team has achieved a convincing victory,” said the RPA’s spokesperson and campaign manager Eduard Sharmazanov.
However, according to reports, violence against media and opposition members still took place throughout Election Day. Pashinyan, early on election day, had implied that the outcome will be strongly affected by vote bribes by the RPA while Yerkir Tsirani alleged vote buying and other serious irregularities throughout the day.
At midday, Postanjyan was forcibly removed from a campaign office of the RPA, which she accused of bribing voters. Postanjyan had entered the party’s office located in the city’s northern Avan district with her daughter during the elections.
She attempted to get a hold of what she described as lists of local residents who were paid by the RPA to vote for the party’s incumbent candidate. However, the RPA members working at the office rejected her requests and an altercation ensued. Both accused each other of violent conduct and argued while surrounding journalists recorded.
The RPA activist managing the office stated that nobody had the right to enter the RPA’s office without the party’s permission. The head of the RPA Avan chapter, who arrived at the scene, likewise argued that under Armenian law citizens that are not affiliated with a particular party are not permitted to enter its offices. He also denied buying votes, but admitted that the district office keeps a list of its voters.
As police were called to the office, Postanjyan told the officers that the evidence was in the drawers and demanded that they confiscate and examine the documents. A police colonel said that he would do that as soon as she left, but Postanjyan refused and was dragged by officers.
Postanjyan’s daughter was also removed from the scene and suffered a concussion. She was then rushed to hospital.
Postanjyan later defended her actions and condemned the police at a press conference. In a written statement, the Armenian police said that the use of force was justified, since Postanjyan defied the orders of law enforcement. The statement also said that she broke into the RPA’s office and violated Armenian laws.
A separate statement by the Office of the Prosecutor-General said that the police will investigate Postanjyan’s allegations. The Special Investigative Service has been assigned to deal with the Avan incident.
Meanwhile, a correspondent of RFE/RL’s Armenian service covering the Mayoral Elections was assaulted after witnessing distribution of cash to voters outside of a RPA campaign office.
The journalist, Sisak Gabrielyan, saw a group of other citizens receiving money from another person shortly after they came out of the office located in the city’s central Kentron district.
“Did you vote for Taron?” one man asked them, referring to Taron Markarian. “Yes, we did,” replied one of the citizens.
Gabrielyan then went into the office and tried to interview one of the RPA activists working there. It was reported that the employees inside immediately moved the papers that were lying on the desk and claimed that they were sharing pastry recipes to local residents.
Some of the young men then began verbally abusing Gabrielyan and forced him to stop filming with his mobile phone. Moments later, one of them even hit Gabrielyan with his hat while another who claimed to be an RPA affiliate threatened him.
That man later apologized to the RFE/RL correspondent. RPA leadership and government authorities did not immediately comment on the incident.
Throughout the elections, the RPA consistently denied the use of cash to buy votes and RPA leaders repeatedly stated that their party remains the most trusted political force in the country.
Despite his failure to win the mayoral race, Pashinyan told reporters that Yelk has managed to build on its earlier success by also getting a faction in Yerevan’s municipal body.