The Independent Observer alliance, to which EPDE member Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor belongs, concluded that the election was democratic and that violations were not of a significant nature. The voter turnout of more than 49% was similar to the 2018 elections. These elections were unique in that voters were very engaged in reporting violations to observers, indicating that voters are not indifferent to the quality of their elections.
Election Day – incidents and conduct
There was, however, a correlation between suspiciously high voter turnout and a high number of votes for the Armenia Alliance in some polling stations. In four polling stations the number of people who voted did not match the number of ballots casts, so observers will investigate the voter lists of these polling stations to check if violations occurred.
Violations were observed in 50% of the observation mission monitored polling stations. They included breach of privacy of the vote and illegal campaigning in polling stations. In 30% of these cases members and proxies of the Armenia Alliance were involved, in 17% the ‘I’m honoured Alliance’ supporters, and some further cases reported for other parties.
In 30% of polling stations observers reported that unauthorized persons were present in polling stations, and some cases of overcrowding in polling stations were observed. By the end of Election Day, observers noted that 29% of video cameras in polling stations were not working. This high number was in part due to power cuts across Armenia affecting certain polling stations.
Observers recorded 52 severe violations, including voter bribery and pressure on voters. Voter bribery cases were not of a significant nature to affect the voters’ free expression of will, but these were the category of violation for which observers received the highest number of complaints from voters. Pressure was reportedly exerted by employers on employees and also by local government bodies on their staff. Cases of these severe violations involving the Armenia Alliance were also higher in comparison to the other parties. Observers also noted that cases of misuse of administrative resources generally increased towards the end of the voting process.
Observers additionally reported instances of commission members not knowing key aspects of the electoral process, which should be improved in the future.
Despite certain changes to the Electoral Code, such as the removal of district seats which made these elections more inclusive, risks still remain. Legal loopholes can still be misused by political parties. This is especially the case concerning administrative violations which are not adequately regulated by the Electoral Code.
The justice system requires fundamental revision, stated observers. A lot of violations were reported by individuals, such as concerning bribery incidents, which is a severe crime. Inaction of law enforcement bodies have been reported which resulted from the lack of knowledge on how to process reported violations.
Campaign and media environment
Despite the tense environment and cases of hate speech before the Election Day, elections were generally free. Media outlets did not intervene during the voting process. However, observers noted that there were cases of disinformation by foreign media outlets.
Unequal access to advertising space and public air time did create a somewhat unequal playing field for contenders. Some controversial decisions by the Administrative Court concerning the dissemination of campaigning materials also did not create equal campaign conditions.