The following is an open letter by Transparency International Anticorruption Center and Europe in Law Association, urging Armenians in the diaspora to act as election observers in future elections in Armenia, starting with the May 2013 municipal election in Yerevan.
On Feb. 18, 2013, the presidential elections demonstrated the Armenian people’s distrust towards authorities and the pressing demand for change. Elections, as usual, were accompanied by gross violations organized by the authorities. During the entire span of the pre-election campaign, voters faced suppression, threats, abuse of administrative resources, and vote buying. On election day, observers as well as voters witnessed gross violations such as ballot stuffing, multiple voting on behalf of absent citizens, and falsification of results in many of the precincts around Armenia. Most local electoral commission members were completely integrated into the falsification process, while many proxies of oppositional candidates were either intimidated or engaged in the deal with the ruling regime.
On election day, many violations were detected, prevented, and reported by independent civil society organizations throughout the country. One of the witnesses of the crudest violation was 21-year-old Narine Esmaeili, a U.S. citizen and participant of the Birthright Armenia program. Narine interns at Transparency International Anticorruption Center and acted as an observer within the observation mission of Europe in Law Association in precinct 17/05 in the town of Artashat. Narine was directly assaulted when she and journalist Artak Hambardzumyan tried to prevent and record mass ballot stuffing, whereas a group of 25-30 men stormed the polling station, grabbed her arms and pinned her against the wall. With assistance from the secretary of the local electoral commission, the band stuffed 400-500 ballots, significantly affecting the results in favor of the incumbent president. In other precincts the ballot stuffing process was smoother and less violent, with the employment of tricks such as temporary isolation of observers. In the aftermath of such countrywide violations, 60.18 percent of eligible voters “participated” in the elections, out of which 58.64 percent “voted” for incumbent Serge Sarkisian, as reported by official sources.
Following the elections, a criminal proceeding was launched by the Special Investigative Service of Armenia (SIS). However, instead of trying to reveal and condemn the crime, the SIS intended to conceal the facts. The investigator in charge of the case was aggressive, attempting to put psychological pressure on Narine for her to change her testimony. Even the head of the SIS violently interfered in the process of interrogation, seizing the tape recorder and preventing Narine’s attorney, Tigran Yegoryan, from collecting evidence on the unlawfulness of the proceeding. Later, SIS representatives continued to use scare tactics and intimidation to ensure Narine and her lawyers from the Europe in Law Association and Transparency International Anticorruption Center recant their call for justice and recognition of electoral fraud.
Narine’s participation in the observation of elections and her high moral and solid stance for the defense of the integrity of the electoral process made a significant difference in Armenia. Violations at precinct 17/05 were recognized by the Constitutional Court and the election results of that precinct (and only that precinct) were annulled, which marked a small but important step towards the realization of the dream of building a democratic state. Her courage and sense of civic duty attracted the attention of many, and spotlighted the problem of election fraud and the reluctance of the authorities to eradicate violations.
Elections in Armenia are constantly distorted, which in turn affect general democratic processes, foster corruption and emigration, and risk the country’s national security and statehood. There is a need for increased active engagement by civil society in the promotion and oversight of electoral processes. There is also the need for engagement of both our citizens as well as our co-patriots around the globe, who care about the future of Armenia.
We are calling upon Armenians throughout the world, as well as the Disaporan organizations to encourage and actively participate in Armenia’s future elections—at both national and local levels. We believe that Narine’s experience, when multiplied, will accelerate Armenia’s progression along the continuum of democracy. By witnessing, voicing concern, and protecting the truth, these observers will help the democratization of Armenia, while extending the scope of their feelings beyond the recognition of genocide.
As a first step, we are calling all active Armenians and Diaspora organizations to join the efforts of local Armenian non-governmental organizations in observing the Yerevan City elections to be held in May 2013.
For more information about participation in the observation mission, please contact Transparency International Anticorruption Center at email@example.com before April 10, 2013.