‘Independent Observer’ Public Alliance: Preliminary Opinion on Short-term Observation of Yerevan City Council Elections of May 14, 2017May 16, 2017 Own, Report
On May 14, 2017, Yerevan City Council (Council of Elders) election day, the ‘Independent Observer’ Public Alliance conducted observation at 60 polling stations and in all the 10 Territorial Electoral Commissions in Yerevan city. There were also 5 mobile observation groups to monitor the situation outside the polling stations as well as to prevent and solve any possible problems at the observed polling stations. About 140 observers were involved in the observation mission.
According to the information collected at the observed polling stations, the situation was as follows.
Inside the polling stations during the voting:
- At 77% of the observed voting stations, there were cases of voters filling out the ballot papers or enveloping them outside the voting booth.
- At 46% of the observed voting stations, there were cases several persons entering the voting booth simultaneously.
- At 42% of the observed voting stations, there were cases when the voters informed someone or just voiced their vote after voting; 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.
- At 35% of the observed voting stations, there were cases of examining the signed voting lists and leaking the information out. Moreover, this was mostly done 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.
- There were unauthorized persons present at 28% of the observed voting stations. At 4 polling stations, there were candidates in the voting room; all of them were from the RPA. However, it should be noted that the real number of unauthorized persons present in the voting room was larger as it was identified that persons with observer badges representing the ‘Legal Culture Development Institute’ NGO, ‘Geghama Youth Territorial Association’ NGO and ‘Hayk’ Union of Young National Conservatives were not in the lists of accredited observers posted on the CEC’s (Central Electoral Commission) official website and hence their badges were forged. 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 3 organizations contain incomplete and inaccurate data of observers; it follows that the CEC accredited the observers data presented in violation of the relevant procedure and the badges were issued to third parties.
- At 41% of the observed voting stations, there were persons whose badges were not visible.
- The violations of the observers’ rights and pressure against them at some voting stations threatened their personal security. Particularly, during the voting day, the observers representing the ‘Independent Observer’ Alliance faced threats at polling stations №№: 3/11, 3/19, 6/9, 8/19 and 9/3. At polling stations №№ 6/9 and 8/19, there was physical violence against observers.
- There were some problems with the electronic registration device at 81% of the observed polling stations.
Around the polling stations during the voting:
- There were campaign activities around and immediately outside of 22% of the observed polling stations, with the vast majority of them being in favor of the Republican Party of Armenia.
- At 33% of the observed polling stations, cases of taking people in groups to the voting stations by taxi or other vehicles were noticed.
- There were campaign offices located next to the 12% of the observed polling stations; all of them of the Republican Party of Armenia. At 2 of these polling stations, there were numerous voters seen leaving the campaign office and entering the polling station.
During the vote count:
- At 16% of the observed polling stations, the vote count session started with a delay mostly because the commission took a break and at 7% of the observed polling stations, the session was interrupted later.
- There were ballots marked in favor of a party with a pen of a different color o shade at 10 (16%) of the observed polling stations; in 9 of them, these ballot papers were in favor of the RPA.
- At 10% of the observed polling stations, the commissions showed a non-uniform approach to declaring the voting papers invalid.
- At 13% of the observed polling stations, there were cases when persons without any badges or police officers were present during the vote count.
- At 10% of the observed polling stations, there were envelopes containing 2 ballot papers.
- At polling station 03/19, a person without any badge immediately participated in the vote count. After the ‘Independent Observer’ Alliance alerted the territorial election commission, a dispute occurred at the polling station and then the person in question left pulling a commission member along, then he returned alone but wearing a badge. After the incident, as Daniel Ioannisyan, Media Representative of ‘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 ballots in favor of ‘Yelk’ bloc were put into the bundle of the RPA ballots; however, the observers restored the violation.
- At polling station 07/53, the representative of the ‘ArmRusInfo’ media and observer from HCA Vanadzor representing the ‘Independent Observer’ Public Alliance were prevented from entering the polling station. Later, the IO observer at the polling station said that the ballot papers were not counted and the numbers written in the protocol did not correspond with the reality. Particularly when the ballot papers were being taken out of the ballot box, the observer estimated that there were 26 ballots in favor of ‘Yelk’ bloc, 10 ballots in favor of ‘Yerkir Tsirani’ party and 425 ballots in favor of the Republican Party of Armenia, whereas the numbers in the final protocols were 10, 3 and 448, respectively.
It should be noted that 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 during the election campaign period as well as on the silence day and voting day.
Instead of examining the revealed materials, the police did everything possible to keep Taron Margaryan’s campaign offices inaccessible. Moreover, on the voting day, the police used violence against head of Yerkir Tsirani party, Zaruhi Postanjyan and her daughter who visited Taron Margaryan’s campaign office in Avan to track the alert of vote-buying.
The materials revealed at the RPA’s campaign headquarters in Arabkir on the eve of 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 conclude that:
- The voting took place with low turnout but still under control over the voters.
- The independent institute of election observation was once again abused and discredited by persons acting as NGO observers but representing the interests of the candidates.
- The relevant authorities, namely the RA Central Electoral Commission, RA Police and the other law enforcement bodies again showed inaction in eliminating the violations and abuses identified during the election campaign and thus encouraged the Republican Party’s unpunished behavior.
- During vote counting at several polling stations, voting results were manipulated.
- The statistical study of the pattern in the official data on turnout and vote distribution shows that unlike the distribution of the ballots in favor of ‘Yelk’ bloc, ‘Yerkir Tsirani’ party, and “invalid” ballots that is proportional and close to the Normal (Gaussian) distribution, the picture with the Republican Party is different. The columns of polling stations showing votes in favor have 2 peaks: the basic one and the small one. The latter (small) peak falls within a higher vote; this shows that the RPA got the highest percentage of votes at these polling stations due to factors other than the voters’ votes (e.g. vote theft or falsification of the protocols).
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.
‘Independent Observer’ Public Alliance represented by:
Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor
Union of Informed Citizens
The observation mission has been implemented within the sub-project “Capacity development of local observer organizations” which is a component of “Long term Electoral Assistance to the Election Related Stakeholders of Armenia” project. The project is funded within European Union and Council of Europe Programmatic Co-operation Framework in the Eastern Partnership Countries for 2015-2017.
The views expressed herein belong to the authors and can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Union or the Council of Europe.