Helsinki Citizens' Assembly-Vanadzor

Statement of Independent Observer Alliance on Yerevan City Council elections

September 18, 2023

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The "Independent Observer" carried out an observation mission for Yerevan city council elections with a team of about 170 people during the election campaign stage and on the voting day.

 

According to the preliminary results of the elections, 5 political parties/alliances were elected to the city council. They are the Civil Contract Party, National Progress Party, Mother Armenia Party Alliance, Public Voice Party and Republic Party.

 

Methodology

 

During the election campaign, 11 long-term observers of the mission monitored the campaigning of political forces in all administrative districts of Yerevan.

 

On the voting day, from 07:00 in the morning until the end of the vote tabulation process, 60 mobile groups carried out observations in the polling stations. After 20:00, the work of all 10 Territorial Electoral Commissions was also observed. A group of observers monitored the election process through cameras installed in all polling stations. Partial media monitoring was also carried out.

 

Recorded major violations

 

On the voting day, the representatives of Independent Observer Alliance visited 468 out of 475 polling stations of Yerevan city at least once. Observers recorded various violations in 148 polling stations. Most of the violations were procedural, but there were also cases of the presence of unauthorized persons in the voting room, crowding, breach of voting secrecy, directing voters, organized transfer, violation of the rights of observers or media representatives, threats and arguments.

 

It should be noted that the majority of other violations were related to the controlled voting, directing voters, and ensuring their participation.

 

Thirty-two cases of long-term presence of unauthorized persons were recorded in 31 polling stations, mostly involving proxies and candidates. However, the simultaneous presence of 2-3 proxies representing the same party is a common violation during all elections, while the presence of 10 candidates from 6 political parties/alliances in the polling stations was unexpected for the Alliance. The conviction of the candidates about having the right to be present at the polling station during voting and the willingness with which they reported having already visited many polling stations are noteworthy.

 

Crowding was observed in 5 out of 15 cases related to the presence of proxies, one case of transfer of turnout-related information to a third party, and two cases of threats, insults and arguments directed at the observers, and aimed at hindering the exercise of the observer's rights.

 

Ten cases of unauthorized presence at the polling station involved supporters of the Civil Contract Party, 2 cases involved supporters of the Mother Armenia Alliance, as well as one case involved supporters of Power of the Homeland Party, National Progress Party and The Republic Party.

 

Even the long unnecessary presence of one person within a radius of 50 meters from the polling station is prohibited and equates to crowding. Nevertheless, 26 cases of crowding recorded around 21 polling stations mainly referred to the presence of several persons, and in 12 cases, the crowding involved proxies and voters gathered around them or unknown persons. It is noteworthy that it was possible to associate the crowding with only 3 parties: Civil Contract Party in 8 cases, Republic Party in 1 case, and Country to Live Party in 2 cases.

 

Twenty-eight cases of directing voters and controlled voting were recorded in 21 polling stations. With the exception of 9 cases, instances of directing voters involved proxies and PEC members (mainly chairpersons). In 14 cases, these were in favour of the Civil Contract Party, in 2 cases - the Country to Live Party, and in one case each – Power of the Homeland, Republic, Bright Armenia parties and Mother Armenia Alliance. Observers noted a visible pattern of different persons accompanying voters to the polling station, arranging transportation or meeting them at the polling station and communicating with voters already in the voting room, giving instructions on voter registration or voting, and standing near the voting booth in such a way as to create a risk of breaching voting secrecy. It is noteworthy that in the territory of the 9/6 polling station, the observers heard how the Civil Contract Party proxy cooperated with unknown persons, who instructed two voters to vote for the Republic Party.

 

Seventeen cases were recorded in 15 polling stations. It should be noted that these violations were prevented by PECs in polling stations where observers were present.

 

Observers did not record cases of the PEC not providing any of the ballot papers. Instead, 2 cases of demonstrative destruction of unused ballots were recorded, and 1 case involving an attempt to take several ballots from the box of unused ballots.

 

Almost no violations were recorded during the vote tabulation sessions. In 4 out of 98 monitored polling stations, the numbers of the coupons printed from the voter registration device and the signatures in the voter lists did not match. However, arguments and other violations took place in some polling stations. In particular, in 8 polling stations, due to the lack of knowledge of the police officers or PEC chairpersons, the entry of persons authorized to attend the vote count session was obstructed. The vote tabulation session was interrupted in 17 polling stations.

 

Organized and regular transfer of voters was recorded in 8 polling stations.

 

Three crime reports and 1 report of attempted crime, as well as one administrative complaint regarding the implementation of propaganda and counter-propaganda by the observation mission "Hayakve" were sent to competent bodies. During the election campaign period, 5 crime reports were submitted to the law enforcement agencies.

 

Free expression of the voters’ will

 

The long-term mission conducted by the Independent Observer collected information regarding the mass abuse of administrative resources for the purpose of pre-electoral gatherings and meetings of the Civil Contract. There were also cases when administrative leverages were used to oblige citizens to participate in pre-electoral gatherings, however, cases of this compulsion were not widespread and, as a rule, abuse of administrative resources was only manifested as support to the organization of pre-electoral events. 

 

No case of electoral bribery was recorded during the long-term observation, however, there were cases of provision of certain items and promising services to voters by the Civil Contract, Power of the Homeland parties and Mother Armenia alliance. 

 

Results of observations conducted by separate bodies

 

The mission did not receive any information regarding duplicate names on the list of voters, however, there were cases when the names of citizens who had the right to vote were not included in the electoral list. No cases of the Police hindering pre-electoral gatherings were recorded, however, in one case the Police were aware that representatives of the opposing political force would show up, and there was a violent confrontation due to their late arrival .

 

Throughout the electoral campaign, the public TV channel organized a number of TV debates and discussions, which were more than the minimum number determined by law. The rules and implementation of the main TV debates were fair and equal. Unfortunately, some political forces refused to participate in debates.

 

As of September 6, in their news and other broadcasts, both the First Channel and the News Channel of the public television covered the activity of Civil Contract more than twice as much as other parties on average. The Public Voice, which was among the parties that exceeded the threshold, was covered thrice less than the Civil Contract party during the same period, while the National Progress, Mother Armenia and Republic were covered twice less each. Moreover, among them, Victory and Bright Armenia parties, which received less than 2% of votes, had significantly more coverage, which refutes the assumption that the volume of coverage is conditioned by the reputation of the parties. 

 

Furthermore, the Public channel conducted institutional coverage of Tigran Avinyan, which, however, was obviously of a campaign nature. It was conducted both during the electoral campaign period designated by law, as well as preceding months. 

 

The streaming of the cameras installed in polling stations went uninterrupted throughout the whole period, except some rare short cases. For a certain period of time, access to the CEC elections.am website was restricted, however, it was quickly restored.

 

Conclusions

 

The regular elections of the Yerevan city Council, where 14 political forces participated, were held in competitive conditions. At the same time, however, public interest in the elections was quite low. As a result, the Council is being formed based on the votes of 28.5% of the total number of citizens who have the right to vote. While the mission raised the issue of mass abuse of administrative resources during and before the campaign, voters were generally free in terms of expressing their electoral will.

 

In the conditions of abusing administrative resources in order to get advantage in the elections, it becomes apparent that the toolkit in place for combating this phenomenon is not sufficient. In particular, it is necessary to ensure the opportunity of conscientious and equal competition of the competing forces for a period longer than that established under the acting Electoral Code.

 

Improper electoral administration still remains worrisome: as a result of improper training of heads and members of the electoral commissions in polling stations, uninterrupted implementation of electoral procedures was not ensured in certain polling stations to assure the natural flow of voting. 

 

We find that reports on electoral crimes (including regarding what Tigran Avinyan did in the polytechnic university) should be properly investigated, while the strictly pro-governmental approach of the Public television should become a subject of future discussions. The fact that “vote entrepreneurs” work in favor of Civil Contract is highly objectionable.

 

The observation mission of the Independent Observer alliance is to disclose legislative and related practical issues in electoral processes and propose solutions contributing to the strengthening of democracy. In this context, we attach particular importance to the publication of the findings of the observation mission and their proper investigation by the law enforcement.

 

The Independent Observer mission, represented by

Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor

Union of Informed Citizens

The Alliance cooperates with the following member and partner organizations:

“Progress of Gyumri” CSDC

“Women’s Rights House” NGO

“Direct Democracy” NGO 

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