Within the framework of the reforms of the electoral legislation, extensive amendments related to the local government electoral system were made in June 2020 and May 2021. Proportional representation electoral system is no longer used in communities with 4,000 or more voters. Аfter a long break caused by the state of emergency and martial law, the first local elections were held in 9 communities of the Republic of Armenia on October 17, 2021 (with the amended proportional representation system in 6 of the communities).
The Independent Observer Alliance carried out an observation mission with a team of 128 observers, 7 lawyers, 8 data entry specialists, 4 observer coordinators and 5 members of the core team. The Independent Observer Alliance observed elections of members of the Council of Elders with the proportional representation system in the communities of Gyumri, Dilijan, Goris, Tegh, Tatev, Meghri, and local elections in Fioletovo (with the majoritarian representation system).
According to the preliminary results of the elections, the following parties/alliances have won the electoral threshold:
|Community||Nominated parties||Turnout||Elected parties/alliances|
|Gyumri||1. “HAYRAKAGHAK” PARTY ALLIANCE “Ramkavar-Azatakan” Party, Heritage Party
2. “DIGNIFIED WAY” PARTY
3. REPUBLICAN PARTY OF ARMENIA
4. CIVIL CONTRACT PARTY
5. “ZARTONK” NATIONAL CHRISTIAN PARTY
6. COMMUNIST PARTY OF ARMENIA
7. “GYUMRI CAN DO IT” NZHDEHIAN NATIONALIST PARTY, Hayk (Haykazunner) Party
8. “BALASANYAN ALLIANCE” SOCIAL PARTY
9. “TASIBOV” ALLIANCE
Freedom Party, Solidarity Party
10. “APRELU YERKIR” PARTY
|24.14%|| “BALASANYAN ALLIANCE” SOCIAL PARTY – 36.31%
CIVIL CONTRACT PARTY – 29.36%
«. “ZARTONK” NATIONAL CHRISTIAN PARTY – 10.42%
“APRELU YERKIR” PARTY – 6.49%
REPUBLICAN PARTY OF ARMENIA – 5.06%
|Goris||1. “ARUSH ARUSHANYAN” ALLIANCE – Reviving Armenia Party, National Agenda Party, ARF Dashnaktsutyun Party, Prosperous Armenia Party
2. “ARMENIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS” PARTY
3. CIVIL CONTRACT PARTY
|50.25%||“ARUSH ARUSHANYAN” ALLIANCE – 60.28%
CIVIL CONTRACT PARTY – 34.31%
“ARMENIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS” PARTY – 2.71%
|Meghri||1. “AZATAKAN” PARTY
2. “APRELU YERKIR” PARTY
3. HANRAPETUTYUN PARTY
4. CIVIL CONTRACT PARTY
|62.66%||HANRAPETUTYUN PARTY – 41.84%
CIVIL CONTRACT PARTY – 32.11%
“AZATAKAN” PARTY – 14.04%
“APRELU YERKIR” PARTY – 9.55%
|Tegh||1. “APRELU YERKIR” PARTY
2. CIVIL CONTRACT PARTY
|60.64%||CIVIL CONTRACT PARTY – 63.63%
“APRELU YERKIR” PARTY -34.17%
|Tatev||1. “APRELU YERKIR” PARTY
2. “SHANT ALLIANCE” NATIONAL PARTY
3. CIVIL CONTRACT PARTY
|59.47%||CIVIL CONTRACT PARTY – 48.95%
“SHANT ALLIANCE” NATIONAL PARTY – 36.29%
“APRELU YERKIR” PARTY -12.89%
|Dilijan||1. “APRELU YERKIR” PARTY
2. “HAYRENIK” PARTY
3. HANRAPETUTYUN PARTY
4. «CIVIL CONTRACT PARTY
5. “CITIZEN’S DECISION” SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC PARTY
|44.00%||CIVIL CONTRACT PARTY – 56.78%
“APRELU YERKIR” PARTY – 23.83%
“CITIZEN’S DECISION” SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC PARTY – 7.48%
HANRAPETUTYUN PARTY – 6.36%
As part of its observation mission for the October 17, 2021 local elections, the Independent Observer Alliance conducted a long-term observation mission since September 22 with 12 observers, who observed 33 pre-election rallies, interviewed 40 rally participants, 83 Council of Elders candidates and 25 heads of party headquarters. They also had meetings with 7 TEC members and 29 PEC members.
Within the framework of the short-term observation mission, 50 polling stations (out of 150 polling stations formed in the above-mentioned communities) were observed by 2 observers each from 07:00 in the morning of October 17, 2021. There were 16 mobile groups of observers operating in those communities. During the voting, the mobile groups visited 118 polling stations. After 20:00 in the evening, the work of 4 Territorial Electoral Commissions in charge of the elections was observed by our team. The observers mainly worked in pairs in the election commissions and mobile groups. The mission involved a support staff of 25 people, including lawyers, coordinators, and communications officers.
Long-term and short-term observations were made using questionnaires evaluating the implementation of the regulations of the electoral legislation.
Main violations during the pre-election campaign
Misuse of administrative resources, mixed with violations of the Labor Code
The recent elections in Armenia were remarkable in that it was not only the ruling party that possessed and misused administrative resources. Misuse of administrative resources was apparently more widespread among opposition forces, insofar as they run local self-government bodies or are the main or sole employer in small communities. During the local elections, the influence of local administrative resources was more evident.
During the nomination and campaign phase, both the ruling and opposition political teams relied on promises to ensure employment in budgetary institutions and in the community positions in order to encourage and motivate both voters and candidates.
In the case of Gyumri and Goris, both the ruling and opposition parties also used the influence of the employer on employees. According to information received by the observation mission, school teachers and principals, employees of private light industry enterprises, security and communal services owned or managed by candidates participated in the pre-election campaigns on a voluntary-compulsory basis.
The unpredictability of the results, the comparability of the distribution of forces created an opportunity for the involvement of “vote entrepreneurs” representing different parties. This circumstance complemented the competitiveness of the pre-election environment.
The resources possessed by the parties were clearly unequal, and the lack of proper oversight exacerbated the use of those resources.
Main violations on the voting day
Isolated cases of violations were registered during the monitoring of the sessions of 53 Precinct Electoral Commissions on the voting day. The relevant conclusions of the “Independent Observer” were summarized in the reference published on October 17, presenting the situation as of 12 pm․
The main violations observed in and around the polling stations on the voting day were the violation of the secrecy of the ballot, namely, voting outside the voting booth and presence of more than one person into the voting booth. In 13% of the 46 polling stations observed during the voting, cases of putting the ballot papers in the envelope outside the voting booth were registered. Moreover, in Meghri this violation was more common.
More than one person entered the voting booth in 20% of the observed polling stations (9 polling stations), a total of more than 60 cases. According to the observations, however, these cases were mostly due to voters’ ignorance of the voting system.
Voting in Tegh village of Syunik Province raises special concerns about the secrecy of the ballot. Out of 1069 voters, 96 (about 9%) voted with the help of another person. Moreover, the observers who visited Tegh noticed that the helpers in the voting booth did not ask the voters who they wanted to vote for.
Arguments took place in 6 polling stations (13%), a total of 11 cases, 5 of which were related to the proxies representing the Civil Contract Party and the “Arush Arushanyan” Alliance. In Tegh community of Syunik Province, the candidate of the Civil Contract Party was observed threatening the candidate of the “Aprelu Yerkir” Party.
Two or more proxies of the parties tried to enter the polling station in 5 of the observed polling stations. In 2 cases they were representatives of the Civil Contract Party and “Arush Arushanyan” Alliance, and in 1 case they were proxies of the “Dignified Way” Party. In all cases, persons not entitled to be present were removed from the polling station by the PEC chairperson, mainly as a result of the observers raising the issue.
In the vicinity of 13% of the polling stations observed, campaigning was carried out in various ways, and two of these cases took place in the Tegh community in favor of the Civil Contract Party. In other communities, these incidents were of irregular and isolated nature.
Overcrowding was observed on the way to the polling station near 30% of the observed polling stations (14 polling stations). Such instances were repeated periodically in some cases.
In only one of the polling stations in Gyumri there were cases of not providing all the ballot papers to the registered voters, and in one of them there were cases of taking ballot papers out of the polling station.
The observation mission in Goris community received alarms regarding the distribution of electoral bribes by the “Arush Arushanyan” Alliance. According to an alarm received from a citizen, the Human Resources Department of Gyumri Polyclinic No. 2 required the staff to take part in the voting and vote for the incumbent governor of Shirak Province.
Cases of organized transportation of voters by the same vehicles were registered in a number of communities. In some cases, presence of candidates or persons affiliated with them was observed in the area adjacent to the precinct center. In the Tegh community of Syunik Province, the organized transportation of voters was much more common, and almost all the cars involved had the “Civil Contract” poster, and some of the cars had their license plates removed. Representatives of the “Independent Observer” tried to track down and find out the identity of the driver of one of the cars, but the latter managed to escape.
The presence of non-accredited media outlets was also registered in a number of polling stations in Goris (HP.am, “Zangezur” TV, news.am, “Armenia” TV, “Armenpress”, “Mosaic”, civic.am, “Mediahub”, ” Hraparak “,” Tavush “TV, Yerevan.Today). Moreover, the representatives of those media outlets were actually registered by the PECs without presenting a certificate issued by the CEC.
The acting mayor of Goris, representing the “Arush Arushanyan” Alliance, and the mayor of Tegh, representing the Civil Contract Party, misused administrative resources in a similar way, each in their own community, and in favor of their political party. In particular, none of them fulfilled their duty defined by law and the legal requirement of the 34th Territorial Electoral Commission, failing to remove the hundreds of posters of the “Arush Arushanyan” Alliance in Goris and Civil Contract Party in Tegh.
As for the violations registered during the vote tabulation session, the counting process in the 59 polling stations observed was generally without violations, but in 12% of the polling stations there were people with not visible badges, 4 of whom were candidates for the Council of Elders. Only two cases of attempts by persons not eligible to attend the vote tabulation session were reported.
Arguments were observed in about 15% of the observed polling stations (7 polling stations). It should be noted that this includes one precinct center visited by mobile observers.
In total, 5 crime reports and 1 inquiry on administrative proceedings were submitted on election day.
The first local elections held on October 17, 2021, following the extensive amendments to the Electoral Code, were held in a competitive environment. Ten parties and party alliances participated in local elections in Gyumri, 5 in Dilijan, 3 in Goris, 2 in Tegh, 3 in Tatev, and 4 in Meghri. For the first time ever, a debate of candidates representing the first numbers in the candidate lists participating in the Gyumri Council of Elders elections (a community with more than 70,000 voters) was held on Public TV in accordance with the law.
Despite alarms about misuse of administrative resources, violations of citizens’ labor rights, and individual cases of electoral bribes, both in the days leading up to and on election day, voters were largely free to express their will.
Exceptions to this were the Goris and Tegh communities of Syunik Province, where both during the long-term observation and on election day, allegations of pressure, threats, significant misuse of administrative resources and electoral bribery were registered. In Goris community those allegations referred to the “Arush Arushanyan” Aliiance, while in Tegh community they referred to the Civil Contract Party.
The unresolved shortcomings of the electoral legislation allowed some of the participating political parties, especially the Civil Contract Party and the Arush Arushanyan Alliance, to try to illegally influence the free will of the voters by misusing financial, economic and administrative resources. These elections have clearly demonstrated the need for full legislative regulation to ensure free and fair elections.
It is commendable that there was competition in all the communities. However, the voter turnout was quite low, except for the communities in Syunik Province.
Inappropriate electoral administration remains a concern․ Due to the inappropriate training of the chairpersons and members of the Precinct Electoral Commissions, the competent, uninterrupted implementation of the electoral procedures, the observance of COVID-19 preventive measures, which would ensure the normal course of the voting, were not ensured in some polling stations.
Independent Observer Public Alliance, represented by:
Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor Office
Union of Informed Citizens NGO
Progress of Gyumri CSDC
Women’s Rights House NGO
Restart Gyumri – Initiative Center NGO
Direct Democracy NGO
“Elections4All-2021 - Domestic Observations and Citizens Empowerment by Civil Society” project is implemented by OxYGen Foundation, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor, Union of Informed Citizens and Yerevan School of Political Studies. The Project is funded by the European Union.