Impressions of an Armenian Election Observer

YEREVAN—Motivated by the recent ferment over the disputed Feb. 18 presidential elections and fed up with the ongoing deficit of democracy in Armenia, hundreds of diasporans streamed into Yerevan this past Sun., May 5, to serve as election observers and media representatives in the city’s municipal race.

Observer mission organizer Kirk Wallace leads a team training of English-speaking monitors in Yerevan.
Observer mission organizer Kirk Wallace leads a team training of English-speaking monitors in Yerevan.

The unprecedented observation mission was the first of its kind, with around 100 diasporans (both repatriates and visitors) teaming up with over 150 local volunteers under the banner of Transparency International’s (TI) monitoring team.

I was lucky enough to be a part of this exciting mission. The trainings began in early April; we were taught by professionals about the vast legal web of election observation and given hands-on instruction on how to deal with violations. Materials were provided in both Armenian and English, with the organizers going to great lengths to ensure we were well equipped and ready to do our job. In addition, the entire project was completely non-partisan and the tone was avidly pro-democratic. Everyone was gathered for one unmistakable purpose: to ensure free and fair elections in Armenia for the first time since early independence.

Seeing so many diasporans gathered for this cause was inspiring. Despite the stereotype of many being disconnected from the concerns of the country or coming only as tourists, here was a wide cross-section of all ages and backgrounds putting their money where their mouth is and doing something to help build a more democratic homeland.

The energy leading up to the vote was infectious. We were ready to make a real difference. But something strange happened on Election Day, at least in my precinct: No visible violations took place.

I was stationed in Nubarashen’s 13/35 precinct alongside another TI volunteer from Vanadzor. My partner was a seasoned veteran who had observed three past elections and seen various forms of electoral fraud.

Members of the local electoral commission tally up the ballots after the polls close.
Members of the local electoral commission tally up the ballots after the polls close.

However, what we both witnessed that day was a fairly orderly and well-run electoral operation. The chair and the election commission staffed with running the poll—made up of different representatives from each of the parties in parliament—came in on time and ready for their duties. They were all well versed in their responsibilities and upheld the rules virtually to the tee. They rotated responsibilities every 2 hours as mandated, kept the room at the cap of 15 voters at a time, checked the names and passports thoroughly, and didn’t let anything slide.

On the rare occasion where something did occur—like one woman taking a picture of her ballot—they immediately intervened.

Having us there along with the proxies, fellow members of the media, and observers surely reinforced the rules but, at the end of the day, there was no immediate violation we could register. We even took turns going outside to see if there were buses bringing people in or any sort of campaigning 50 meters from the precinct, but could not detect or record anything.

Of course, I know that this was not the case in other precincts throughout the city. Countless instances of serious irregularities and violations have been reported, especially cases of vote-buying and groups unlawfully loitering in front of precincts to corral voters.

But from conversations with many other fellow observers, the general picture I received is that the majority saw some irregularities and basic mistakes but no major violations in their precincts. Most added that the vote count at their precinct generally matched up with the results reported by the Central Election Commission.

Voters go to the polls in the Nubarashen district of Yerevan for the city's municipal elections.
Voters go to the polls in the Nubarashen district of Yerevan for the city’s municipal elections.

The final official results were 58 percent for the Republican Party, 20 percent for Prosperous Armenia, and 8 percent for Raffi Hovannisian’s “Barev Yerevan” Alliance, with all other parties below the 6 percent threshold. These results are nothing less than shocking to anyone familiar with the widespread disappointment with the ruling regime and governance expressed in general throughout Yerevan.

Again, my assessment comes mostly from personal observations and conversations. I am in no way trying to say that serious violations didn’t happen or that my anecdotal view should be taken as representative of the whole election. However, I can’t help but draw certain conclusions from what I saw and spoke with other colleagues about.

Namely, it seems clear to me that the vast majority of rigging and fraud in Armenia no longer takes place in the precincts on Election Day. The ruling regime has honed its machinery to the point that it can often ensure its results from a distance—past 50 meters from the electoral precincts and certainly outside of the voting room.

Indeed, the voting areas themselves are full of opposition representatives, opposition proxies, observers, and media reps recording the entire process. To falsify the elections inside the voting room on a mass scale and then have all of the opposition representatives sign off on the vote count is certainly no easy task.

What is occurring is, in most cases, taking place outside of the precincts—it’s happening in the buildings, on the blocks, in the homes, in the stores, in the schools, in the neighborhoods, in the institutes, and in the values of the citizenry. It’s going to take a lot more than electoral observers to counteract that.

Yet, I should add that I have come out of this experience with even more faith in the role of impartial observers (both local and diasporan) than I had when I came in. There is definitely power in a citizenry and populace mobilized and willing to vigilantly defend its democratic rights. Without independent observers and the spirit they brought to the process, the fraud would have certainly been even worse.

The main goal should be to build upon and vastly expand the number of such vigilant citizens to the point where fraud can not only be unthinkable in the voting booth, but in every crack and corner of Armenian society.

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Serouj Aprahamian

Serouj Aprahamian has always been actively involved in the Armenian community. From 2007-2009, he served as the Capital Gateway Program Director for the Armenian National Committee of America in DC, while obtaining a Master's in International Relations from American University. He also served for three years as the Executive Director of the AYF Western Region and has contributed regularly to the Armenian Weekly, Haytoug, and Asbarez. He is currently a correspondent of the Armenian Weekly in Yerevan.

9 Comments

  1. For a comprehensive account, read Maria Titizian’s absolutely terrifying account in Asbarez.

  2. Great idea! Diaspora election observers. Maybe Armenia’s Diaspora ministry can take the initiative in asking different Armenian organizations in the Diaspora to send volunteers to Armenia at the time of elections. These volunteers can then be trained by either the Diaspora ministry or foreign NGO’s on how to be election monitors and used during election.

    This would served as a way to not only monitor the elections and make certain that the elections are transparent and fair, but also will serve as yet another way of connecting Armenia and the Diaspora, helping the two sides bridge the gap of animosity and distrust that exists between the two.

  3. Why do diaspora Armenians so eagerly try to find ways to throw dirt on Armenia?Can’t you accept that there is a difference in mentality between the Armenians in Armenia and diaspora.Just leave it alone and be happy that we not only survived the earthquake and the war but created two republics. Some Soviet republics couldn’t even claim their independence and are still in Russian federation.

    • No, Ani, we will not accept the notion that there is somehow a “difference of mentality” between Armenians in the Diaspora and Armenia. That is a racist and self-hating idea that I have pointed out many times, and that is usually shared by the apologists of the regime. We all are Armenians, we care about our brothers and sisters in Armenia, and we want them to have the kind of state that they deserve. And we will do everything in our power to make sure that the people of Armenia have the government that they deserve.
      .
      The idea that somehow the “mentality” of the folks in Armenia is incompatible with democracy is promoted by the regime and is absolutely false. Many Armenians leave Armenia and go to countries like the United States precisely because they are sick of the mentality of the regime and the oligarchs.

    • And by the way, the Diasporans are not throwing dirt at Armenia. They are pointing out the dirt that is smothering Armenia (i.e. corruption, rigged elections). And we are trying to make sure that the dirt (i.e. people’s apathy towards their country, emigration) will not cause the loss of the two republics that we created.

    • Ani:

      you are correct: dirt is being thrown.
      some misguided Diasporans or enemies posing as Armenian Diasporans are hell bent on causing damage to our little jewel RoA: either out of failure to understand the geopolitics of South Caucasus and the region at large, or out of malice.

      And this line is the joke of the month: {“… we care about our brothers and sisters in Armenia”}.
      This same poster calls our heroic brothers and sisters of Artsakh – “separatists”: a term used by invader AzeriTatarTurks and Turks to denigrate and delegitimize the indigenous native inhabitants of our historic lands.
      And the same poster keeps spreading disinformation that Serj Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan are “Azerbaijani citizens”.
      (Well, No, buddy boy: they _were_ Citizens of USSR, like everybody else in USSR).
      So, stand your ground Ani: we the silent majority, both in RoA and Armenian Diaspora, need to keep resolutely countering the fringe malcontent minority.

    • It’s interesting how “we” (two posters) can claim to be majority. It’s also interesting why this imaginary “majority” chooses to remain silent if it cares for Armenia so much. It’s also funny how some of our self-hating pseudo-patriots pretend to care for Armenia or for our “brothers and sisters in Artsakh.” It’s amusing how the poster above, for instance, who calls our people “sheep” left and right and blames the victims of the Armenian Genocide for their tragedy, claims to be offended for Armenia’s president.

    • [Is Turkey’s Consul Unhappy that not All Armenians were Slaughtered like Sheep?](Friday, May 7th, 2010 Posted by Harut Sassounian)
      http://asbarez.com/80515/is-turkey%E2%80%99s-consul-unhappy-that-not-all-armenians-were-slaughtered-like-sheep/
      {“I am very proud of grandma Gadar, because at a time when more than a million Armenians were being marched to their deaths by the genocidal rulers of Tekin’s ancestors, she and her fellow Zeitountsis — men, women and children — defended themselves valiantly and refused to be slaughtered like sheep”}
      So much for the sheep, buddy boy.
      —–
      And we are the silent majority by simple deduction: how many of your noisy fringe minority showed up to the ‘massive’ RoA presidential election protest on April 9th, 2013 in Glendale that your fringe minority buddies were calling for ? Anybody ?
      Out of an Armenian population in Glendale of about 90,000 ?
      1,500 Armenians showed up to protest in front of the consulate of Axerbaijan in West LA in 2012: there is your silent majority.
      Several thousand showed on April 24th, 2013 in front of the Turkish consulate in LA: there is your silent majority.
      And the silent majority does not need to uselessly shout and scream in the streets like the noisy fringe minority: we help our bothers and sisters in RoA and indigenous brothers and sisters of NKR quietly.

    • Just because people do not protest in front of the Armenian consulate does not mean they support the regime. There is heavy construction going on on the streets around the consulate (especially Central Avenue), and one can go crazy just driving through there. As for thousands protesting in front of Turkish and Azeri consulates, there is a well-established organizational structure (ANCA, the youth organizations) that primarily focus on Genocide recognition. The pro-democracy forces are still in the process of organizing, which hopefully will produce results soon.
      .
      I highly doubt Sassounian ever blamed the Genocide victims for the Genocide anywhere in his articles. I also highly doubt he said anything like this:
      “no wonder we were slaughtered like sheep by Turks. Turks glorify their military, while we glorify our spoiled brats.” Avery // February 26, 2013 at 3:17 am //
      http://armenianweekly.com/2013/02/23/a-story-of-defiance-activists-reject-international-observers-assessment-of-election/
      Trying to compare yourself to Sassounian, kiddo, is like a mosquito comparing itself to an elephant. Sassounian has always showed his sympathy for his people and never blamed the Genocide victims for the Genocide.

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