Violations during Yerevan City Council Elections- Observers faced threats
On May 14, 2017, Yerevan City Council (Council of Elders) election day, the ‘Independent Observer’ Public Alliance conducted a short-term observation mission at 60 polling stations and in all the 10 District Election Commissions in Yerevan city.
According to the information collected at the observed polling stations, the situation below was identified. Inside the polling stations in course of the voting:
1. At 77% of the observed voting stations, cases of filling out the voting papers or putting them into envelope by the voters outside the voting booth were identified.
2. At 46% of the observed voting stations, cases when more than one person entered the voting booth at a time were identified.
3. At 42% of the observed voting stations, cases when the voters informed someone or just voiced aloud their vote after voting were identified; moreover, in the vast majority of such cases, the voters voiced about voting for the RPA (Republican Party of Armenia), Taron Margaryan or “number 3″ and in 2 cases about voting for Nikol Pashinyan and ‘Yelk’ bloc.
4. At 35% of the observed voting stations, cases of examining the signed voting lists and taking such information outside the polling station were recorded. Moreover, such actions were mostly taken by the proxies of the Republican Party of Armenia and the observers of ‘Hayk’ Union of Young National Conservatives and ‘Geghama Youth Territorial Association’ NGO.
5. At 28% of the observed voting stations, the presence of the persons not entitled to stay in the voting room was identified. At 4 polling stations, there were candidates in the voting room, all of them nominated by the RPA. However, it should be noted that the real number of the persons not entitled to stay in the voting room was larger as persons with observer’s badges representing the ‘Legal Culture Development Institute’ NGO, ‘Geghama Youth Territorial Association’ NGO and ‘Hayk’ Union of Young National Conservatives, whose names were missing from the lists posted on the CEC’s (Central Electoral Commission) official website and who were therefore observers with false badges non-accredited by the CEC, were identified at the polling stations. Moreover, GETA NGO’s observers’ list mentions the voting day to be observed as April 2, National Assembly election day and the lists of all the 3 organizations contain incomplete details of the observers; it follows that the CEC accredited the observers data presented in violation of the relevant procedure and the badges were issued to the third parties.
6. At 41% of the observed voting stations, persons not wearing their badges visibly were noticed.
7. The violations of the observers’ rights and pressure against them at some voting stations reached a level dangerous for a person. Particularly, during the voting day, the observers representing the ‘Independent Observer’ Alliance faced threats at the polling stations below №№: 3/11, 3/19, 6/9, 8/19 and 9/3. At polling stations №№ 6/9 and 8/19, the observers suffered violence.
8. At 81% of the polling stations, some problems with the electronic registration device were identified.
Around the polling stations in course of the voting:
1. At 22% of the observed polling stations, voter guidance actions in favor of some party/bloc, with the vast majority in favor of the Republican Party of Armenia, were taken around the polling station or right at its entrance.
2. At 33% of the observed polling stations, cases of taking people in groups to the voting stations by taxi or other vehicles were noticed.
3. Next to the 12% of the observed polling stations, there were campaign headquarters, all of them of the Republican Party of Armenia. At 2 of such polling stations, numerous voters leaving such headquarters and entering the polling stations were noticed.
During the vote count:
1. At 16% of the observed polling stations, the vote count session started with delay mostly because of lunch break and at 7% of the observed polling stations, the session was interrupted.
2. At 10 (16%) of the observed polling stations, voting papers in favor of a party with inks of a distinctive color or shade were noticed; in 9 of such cases, such voting papers were in favor of the RPA.
3. At 10% of the observed polling stations, the commissions showed a non-uniform approach to declaring the voting papers invalid.
4. At 13% of the observed polling stations, there were cases when persons without any badges or police officers were present during the vote count.
5. At 10% of the observed polling stations, there were envelopes with 2 voting papers.
6. At polling station 03/19, a person without any badge took a direct part in the vote count. After the ‘Independent Observer’ Alliance alerted the district election commission, a dispute occurred at the poling station and then the person in question left after shoving a commission member, then he returned alone with the badge. After the incident, as Daniel Ioannisyan, Media Manager at ‘Independent Observer’ Alliance, arrived at the polling station, his access was obstructed for some time and after entering the polling station, it was revealed that 23 voting papers in favor of ‘Yelk’ bloc were put into the bundle of the RPA voting papers; however, the observers prevented it.
7. At polling station 07/53, the representative of the ‘ArmRusInfo’ media representing the ‘Independent Observer’ Public Alliance was prevented from entering the polling station.
Later, an observer at the polling station said that the ballot papers were not counted and the numbers written in the records had nothing to do with the reality and particularly at the moment the voting papers were taken out, the observer estimated that there were 26 voting papers in favor of ‘Yelk’ bloc, 10 voting papers in favor of ‘Yerkir Tsirani’ party and 425 voting papers in favor of the Republican Party of Armenia, whereas the numbers in the final records were 10, 3 and 448, respectively. It should be noted that at the election campaign stage as well as on the silence day and voting day, for the first time facts of widespread and systematic vote-buying by the Republican Party of Armenia and facts of the police involvement in the election campaign (data of the fax message sent by the Guard and Patrol Service Regiment to the RPA’s headquarters in Arabkir administrative district) were revealed.
Instead of examining the revealed materials, the police did everything possible to keep Taron Margaryan’s headquarters inaccessible. Moreover, on the voting day, the police used violence against Zaruhi Postanjyan and her daughter who visited Taron Margaryan’s headquarters in Avan to track the alert of vote-buying. The materials revealed at the RPA’s campaign headquarters in Arabkir on the day before the elections provided all the grounds for the RA Central Electoral Commission to have the RPA’s candidacy annulled in a court of law, but instead, it rejected the relevant application of ‘Yelk’ bloc.
On the voting day, a number of acts of violence against journalists, observers and electoral processes were recorded and relevant crime reports were submitted.
Summing up the preliminary findings of the observation, we can identify as follows:
1. The voting took place with low turnout but still under control over the voters.
2. The independent institute of election observation was once again abused and discredited by persons acting as if observers on behalf of NGOs but presenting the interests of the candidates.
3. The competent bodies, namely the RA Central Electoral Commission, RA Police and the other law enforcement bodies again showed inaction in terms of removing the frauds and abuses identified during the election campaign by thus encouraging the Republican Party’s unpunished behavior.
4. During vote counting at several polling stations, arithmetic frauds were recorded.
5. The statistical study of the pattern in the official data on turnout and vote distribution shows that unlike the distribution of the voting papers in favor of ‘Yelk’ bloc and ‘Yerkir Tsirani’ party and “invalid” voting papers that is proportional and close to the Normal (Gaussian) distribution, the picture with the Republican Party is different. By the vote percentage, the graphics of the number of polling stations has 2 peaks: the basic one and the small one. The latter (small) peak falls within the highest percentage; this shows that the fact that the RPA got the highest percentage of votes at a number of polling stations was influenced by other factors as well, apart from the voters’ votes (e.g. vote theft or falsification of the records).
The ‘Independent Observer’ Public Alliance believes that the Yerevan City Council Elections of May 14, 2017 were held in a blatant violation of the essential principles of democratic elections.