Armenia Votes amid Reports of Widespread Irregularities

YEREVAN (A.W.)—Disappearing stamps, unidentified men, escorts, and multi-votes: Facts and rumors painted a chaotic image of the elections as they happened in eight polling stations visited by the Armenian Weekly.

One of the polling stations visited by the Armenian Weekly (Photo by Nanore Barsoumian)

Stamps disappearing from voters’ passports became one of the first news items on voting irregularities on the morning of May 6, when Armenians went to the polls for the parliamentary elections. The stamps were intended to leave no trace behind within 24 hours. Yet, some disappeared in less than an hour.

One man pointed at the far right corner of a clean page in his passport: “It was right there,” he told the Armenian Weekly. He voted at 8:05 a.m. at polling station 6/02, minutes after the polls opened. By 8:40 a.m., the ink had entirely disappeared, he said. All but a tiny speck remained (see photo).

The eight polling stations visited included one in the Kentron (central Yerevan), and seven in Achapniag district, a poorer area in Yerevan. (There are 41 districts in the country, and around 2,000 polling places.) Most followed the rule of allowing no more than 15 voters into the voting area. Entrances at all but one station were quite crowded, where patience seemed to run low. Party representatives, and sometimes observers and journalists, stood or sat in the voting area, provided they had the proper identification card, while between one and four dozen people loitered around the buildings.

Little black cameras were propped up high above the voters or stationed at the corners of desks. Six parties had agreed to install the cameras in as many polling stations as they could. Although the cameras may catch visible voter-fraud practices, spotting some of the more serious allegations may prove to be an almost impossible task.

He voted at 8:05 a.m. at polling station 6/02, minutes after the polls opened. By 8:40, the ink had entirely disappeared, he said. (Photo by Nanore Barsoumian)

At some of the polling stations, voters were suspected of using red pens on the ballot, as part of a vote-buying scheme (ballots marked with red might be counted to make certain that all the “purchased” votes are there). There were also rumors that van-loads of voters were being driven around to various polling stations to cast multiple votes using different identification cards. The Armenian Weekly was unable to verify these claims.

The Weekly spoke with one observer who confirmed rumors that men were escorting small groups of people. “Some men were coming back after voting, which is illegal. They would return, and escort others in. We told the chairman of the local election commission, and they got thrown out,” Ani Karapetyan from Kentron TV channel told the Weekly.

Karapetyan noticed another problem,as well. Two or three men without identification badges were sticking around in the voting station. When she asked them where their badges were, they said they were representatives of the Republican Party, and claimed their ID cards were in their pockets. Karapetyan told them that they were required to have them in a visible place. They left soon after, without showing her their badges.

The Weekly experienced a similar incident, when a man asking not to be photographed failed to produce the required badge. The man, who claimed he was a representative of the Republican Party and who was frequently interacting with voters, left almost immediately after the Weekly inquired about his identity and the absence of his identification card.

A man votes in Yerevan (Photo by Nanore Barsoumian)

What seemed strange was the presence of observers, and even journalists, who seemed unaware of what organization they represented, or had to check their badges to identify themselves. One such man remained in the lobby of the polling station for the entire hour the Weekly was there. He asked voters for their addresses and directed them either towards the right, or left—to either of the two polling stations.

In another particularly chaotic polling station, an argument broke out between a Republican Party and Prosperous Party representative. The latter claimed the Republican was standing too close to the cardboard cubicle where voters cast their ballots.

The Weekly was also alerted about a picture of President Serge Sarkisian—who heads the Republican Party list—at the aforementioned voting station. Keeping his picture in the voting area would be tantamount to campaigning, which is prohibited within polling stations.

In the neighboring polling station—separated by a line of low benches unable to stop the flow of people between the two stations—the chairman suffered an epileptic seizure. The station was closed to voters for around 40 minutes.

iDitord.org, a website that allows observers to submit their reports, shows that there were 1,036 instances of voting irregularities. These included 283 reports of bribery and pressuring; 178 cases of campaigning; and 134 instances of disruptions of the voting process. Some of the reports claimed that when people approached to register their vote, they were told their names had been crossed off already—in other words, others had voted in their name.

One observer said that “Pjni” mineral waters bearing the name of the Republican Party were distributed in one district. Another observer said that a “carousel” was organized at polling station 11/02, where a pre-marked ballot was given to a voter to return with an unmarked one in order to get paid.

So far, the preliminary results show that the Republicans received the most votes, 44.35 percent. They were followed by the Prosperous Armenia Party, with 30.26 percent; the Armenian National Congress, 6.99 percent; Heritage Party, 5.70 percent; the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, 5.67 percent; the Armenian Communist Party, 1.06 percent; and the Armenian Democratic Party, 0.36 percent. (See the results here.)

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Nanore Barsoumian

Nanore Barsoumian was the editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2014 to 2016. She served as assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2010 to 2014. Her writings focus on human rights, politics, poverty, and environmental and gender issues. She has reported from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabagh, Javakhk and Turkey. She earned her B.A. degree in Political Science and English and her M.A. in Conflict Resolution from the University of Massachusetts (Boston).
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@NanoreB

Beirut-Born, Boston-Based | RT Not Endorsement
RT @ChrisBohjalian: Fascinated by @NanoreB's seminar on identity at #ArtLinks. Interesting to see HOW we identify ourselves. Wish @realDona - 2 years ago

8 Comments

  1. Ridiculous and pathetic. No self-respecting part should participate in this sham. One can only be part of the opposition in Armenia if one wants to keep his party’s name honorable.

  2. the most serious problem besides vote buying was the fact that newly printed passports and passports of those who are not in the country were used to vote for the 2nd, 3rd time by republicans party members. Here’s a clip of what appears to be new passports being passed out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fadp6iwWeLM&list=FLoPlqe-2h6ytcpICSQT0mlA&index=2&feature=plpp_video and this is the reason why republicans who have a monopoly in armenia’s gov’t refuse to publish the names of the voters after elections..

  3. I haven’t read anything more biased than this report about elections. There was a more than sufficient number of observers and none reported widespread rumors of irregularities of he said, she said quality. At each precinct there were representatives of the political parties and we have yet to see any serious violation reports filed by them. The author used several hundred words on the issue of the ink which was addressed very promptly by the CEC. Negativism is not what Armenia needs today. I could as well read a report with this title in the Azeri or Turkis media. This is not fair reporting, this is politically biased denigration.

  4. I agree with Arthur. No legitimate observer from either the CIS or OSCE have mentioned any serious issues. In fact, a number of people have said this was the best election in terms of transparency and fairness relative to any previous elections Armenia has held.

  5. Why losers can not be gracious and accept that they have lost. Don’t they realise that by their protestations they lose credibility? One lady representing one of the parties in the Congress Grouping claimed that if it had not been for vote rigging the Republicans would not have received more than 2% of the vote. Come now!
    As an outsider watching the pre-election rallies on TV it was obvious what the outcome of the election was going to be. Heritage Parties rallies were never attended by more that a few score people, the same with the Communists. Rallies of ARF and Congress were somewhat better attended but nowhere close to the crowds that the Republican and Prosperous Armenia parties attracted.

  6. I do not understand the big fuss about the disappearing stamps on passports.
    Don’t the election officers tick the name of the voter on their lists so that if the same person appears again, stamp or no stamp on the passport, they would know that that person had already voted. At least this is how the voting procedure is in Cyprus.

  7. agree with Arthur and AR.

    So far, every evaluation I have read by 3rd party observers says it was the fairest and most open Parliamentary election to date in RoA. All parties had equal access to the electorate. Whatever irregularities that were observed could not have affected the outcome.

    In every US Election there are irregularities. (…heard of Democratic votes that vanished in Ohio ? rigged ATM-style voting machines ?)
    The US Supreme Court illegally interfered in Florida’s Presidential election and may have cost Gore the presidency. Yet Gore was big enough to publicly announce after Bush won, that Bush was elected President and the issue was closed.

    The percentages are simply too great for the losing parties to credibly claim they lost due to fraud. If it was, say, 47% vs 49%, then ARF could legitimately claim something. But they are not even close. Same with other parties that lost.

    One reason great countries are great is because someone like Gore, who most likely lost due to conservative US Supreme Court, move on.

    In our case, there will be endless and pointless demonstrations and protests for months to come – instead of doing useful work.

  8. Assuming ARFD and ANC are right: the ruling coalition parties garnered150 – 300 000 (depending who you ask) fake votes, i.e. in the name of Armenian citizens absent from the country; assuming Vahan and Levon have evidence for that and can prove this in the court of law, I still would have this question, if I were one of their supporters: How come only some 106 000 votes were cast for ANC and about 86 000 for ARFD? The ballots cast for them were not destroyed, did not evaporate. Why did not ANC get million votes as Manukyan and LTP were promising at rallies? Why ARFD did not get at least the 2007 number? Was it because of the ink issue or “dead souls”? Of course, if these allegations have a leg to stand on, the outcome would have been different – it would slightly increase percentages: ANC (10%), RPA (40%) and possibly PAP (25%). But is this fuss really about 3%?

    It is common for humans to attribute failures to external causes. They lost elections through poorly crafted messages and they lost the protest electorate split by the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP), posing as a benevolent opposition. I readily admit that “electoral bribes” were likely employed in the form of “charity”. But here, too, instead of blaming people in desperate condition choosing material benefits over vague promises similar to the ones generously made in 2007 and never fulfilled (ARFD, Heritage), I’d ask questions about campaign quality. If in the case of Heritage there is an explanation – they were too small a faction to make a dent in the legislative body, in the case of ARFD, a former member of the ruling coalition, the “new promises” were hard sells.

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