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Republicans Win Majority in National Assembly, Controversy Anticipated

YEREVAN (A.W.)—In what will either be viewed as a memorable political triumph or the start of an endless campaign of protests, the Republican Party of Armenia claimed victory in the Armenian National Assembly elections on May 6.

Scenes from the elections (Photo by Aaron Spagnolo, The Armenian Weekly)

Although international news reports had predicted a win for the Republicans, most leaders of the other political parties vying for seats in the National Assembly anticipated a less than highly favorable turnout for the ruling party.

According to data posted by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), the Republican Party of Armenia won by a landslide, with 44 percent of the vote—amounting to over 663,000 ballots in their favor. The Prosperous Armenia Party came in at a distant second place with 30 percent, just short of 454,700 votes.

The Armenian National Congress, an opposition bloc comprised of numerous smaller, obscure political parties led by former president Levon Ter-Petrossyan, barely passed the 7 percent minimum it needed to win its first-ever presence in parliament.

Both the ARF-Dashnaktsutyun and the Heritage/Free Democrats Party alliance managed to slide across the threshold needed for representation in the National Assembly, with each earning approximately 5.7 percent of the vote. The pro-government Country of Law (Orinats Yerkir) also secured enough votes to retain its place.

The majority of the winning candidates in the 41 single-mandate districts were Republicans. The others were from the Prosperous Armenia Party and Country of Law. In the hotly contested race of the 7th electoral district, Nikol Pashinian, the firebrand editor of the newspaper Haykakan Zhamanak representing the Congress, lost to the incumbent Republican oligarch Samvel Alexanyan, infamously known as “Lfik Samo.” Alexanyan incidentally controls the monopoly on imports of key foodstuffs into the country.

Another independent parliamentary hopeful and editor of the news daily 168 Zham, the glamorous Satik Seyranyan, lost to her Republican challenger Artak Sargsyan, the owner of a supermarket chain, in the 4th electoral district. In the 9th district, Levon Zourabyan, a prominent leader of the Congress and confidant of Levon Ter-Petrosyan, likewise lost to a Republican challenger.

Scenes from the elections (Photo by Aaron Spagnolo, The Armenian Weekly)

Voter turnout was higher than expected, at around 62 percent, according to the CEC. Exactly 238 people living outside Armenia voted electronically, the vast majority of them for the Republican Party.

The pre-election campaigning period was described as “competitive, vibrant, and largely peaceful” in the OSCE/ODIHR preliminary findings issued Monday afternoon, and similar wording was used in its interim report published before the elections. Nevertheless, there were reports of intimidation and beatings in the weeks leading up to the elections. In early April, an Armenian National Congress candidate from the town of Armavir was forced to drop out of the race after being attacked and his family threatened by individuals believed to have been linked with his Republican rival.

Almost all of the violations cited in the OSCE/ODIHR report dated April 27 were denied by the authorities. One particularly thorny issue was the donation of tens of tractors to farmers in various regions by the pro-government Prosperous Armenia Party, which denied being involved in measures to gain votes. In Etchmiadzin and Yerevan’s Arabkir District, school teachers and their own students were reportedly obliged to attend Republican party campaign rallies, an accusation party officials strongly denied.

In the weeks leading up to the elections, some political groups, the Congress in particular, claimed that as many as 700,000 individuals on the voter lists were ineligible to vote, for reasons ranging from being absent from the country to being deceased. The CEC was sharply criticized by the opposition for being careless when preparing the lists.

Scenes from the elections (Photo by Aaron Spagnolo, The Armenian Weekly)

The elections were marred by controversy not long after the polls opened at 8 a.m. on May 6. Several reports across the country surfaced of voting stamps being put in passports with disappearing ink, as was initially reported by Hetq Online: Before placing a vote in the ballot box, a voter was required to have his/her passport stamped and the ballot sealed. By mid-morning updates and photos appeared on Facebook minutes after voters realized that their stamps had vanished.

Hetq also reported that during the first 8 hours of election day, 151 calls were made to the Human Rights Defender, with most complaints about the stamps, long lines at stations, or voters arriving in buses. By 9 p.m., that number had increased to 204.

Several incidents of suspicious behavior in the city district of Achapniag were reported earlier by the Weekly.

Despite the reported problematic polling stations, the atmosphere at many of Yerevan’s precincts, from Shengavit to Malatia to Arabkir, was relatively calm and orderly. The average number of registered voters per district was around 1,800.

Police presence varied from as many as four officers assigned to a single polling station to none. There was no discernable logic over the number of officers made available at any given place.

At some polling stations, suspicious activity was blatantly obvious. In Erebuni’s precincts 13/32 and 13/33 on Nor Aresh Street in a primary school, one minibus was parked around the corner, while three other Gazelle minibuses assigned to route 62 waited out front (one of them drove up curbside as this reporter was leaving the area). Two of the buses had a Republican Party flag hanging from the front-side window. Inside the precinct the scene was disorganized, with voters standing around with no visible concrete line and mild commotion. There were several suspicious loiterers out front along the sidewalk standing by expensive black SUVs. Just outside the door entering the school, one woman held two cellphones in her hands, texting with one of them. This raised suspicion as one alleged method of vote buying requires that a voter take a photo of the ballot with a provided cellphone.  No police were visible.

Scenes from the elections (photo by Aaron Spagnolo, The Armenian Weekly)

By contrast, at the station for precincts 13/22 and 13/23 on Erebuni Street only a mile away, all was calm and quiet out front. Three officers were posted at each precinct where the line entering the polls began. At 13/22 there was an argument about a voter being out of turn.

In the late afternoon in the Aresh neighborhood of Erebuni at precincts 13/09 and 13/10 on Movses Khorenatsi Street, four officers were present and an orderly line was formed outside the door. Scores of people were seen loitering outside the building, some exhibiting dubious behavior. One man sitting in the far corner near the flight of steps leading up to the station was studying what appeared to be a list several pages long while chatting with a group of others standing around him, as if to offer protection. Ironically, a police station is directly across the street from the building, with a Republican Party campaign office conveniently located only a few doors down. This was the case in most districts, with a campaign office of the ruling party either just down the road or around the block.

In presenting their findings on Monday afternoon, May, the heads of the OSCE and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) elections observation missions were critical of activities in polling stations that hampered the smooth flow of the voting process. They indicated instances of proxies or observers from political parties becoming involved in issues that were out of their scope to resolve.

“Some of the political parties who were observers in the polling stations seemed to be less than constructive…apparently taking some responsibilities that really belonged to the commission officials in the polling stations,” said Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, the head of the PACE delegation.

“Armenia deserves recognition for its electoral reforms and its open and peaceful campaign environment,” said François-Xavier de Donnea, special coordinator for the OSCE short-term observer mission in a press conference on Monday. “But in this race, several stakeholders too often failed to comply with the law, and election commissions too often failed to enforce it. As a result, the international commitments to which Armenia has freely subscribed were not always respected.”

De Donnea also called on the CEC to post the election results in each polling district to raise the public’s confidence level in the electoral process.

“The election campaign was open and fundamental freedoms were respected,” said Radmila Šekerinska, head of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission, in her report. “In the course of the official campaign the media offered broad and balanced coverage. Unfortunately, this was overshadowed by concerns over the accuracy of the voter lists and violations of the electoral code that created an unequal playing field.”

The political parties challenging the Republicans were inconspicuously quiet on Monday as the final polling results came in. Statements are not expected to be made until sometime Tues., May 8.

The Armenian National Congress is scheduled to hold a protest on May 8. By the time of this report’s filing it was still unclear whether ARF and the Prosperous Armenia Party would participate.

National Assembly member Vahan Hovhannisyan of the ARF had indicated in the days just prior to the elections that the party would protest the results in tandem with other political forces if the vote was not deemed free and fair.

8 Comments on Republicans Win Majority in National Assembly, Controversy Anticipated

  1. What puzzles me, even if there was fraud, which there was, is why the Armenian people would vote for the two parties that represent oligarchs and corruption.

    Even if the voters take money to vote a certain way, they can go into the voting booth and vote secretly the way they really want, can’t they? Tell me.

    There is an old saying: “People get the government they deserve.” It is as true for Armenians as for any other people.

    I don’t know – maybe the Armenian populace is so corrupted itself that it does not care. Perhaps their only complaint about corruption is that they themselves are not getting a greater share of it. Maybe most people are corrupt. I just do not know.

    These are questions I have never seen answered. Is there anyone in Armenia who can answer these questions?

    • “People get the government they deserve.”

      “I don’t know – maybe the Armenian populace is so corrupted itself that it does not care. Perhaps their only complaint about corruption is that they themselves are not getting a greater share of it. Maybe most people are corrupt. I just do not know.”

      Totally agree with you.

      We need a generation change. Did you notice that our new generation is more active and demanding? Did you see what happened to the Mashtotc purak? Things are slowly getting better in Armenia. It is just slow and many people lost their patience and left Armenia.

    • Davo, good question:

      “Even if the voters take money to vote a certain way, they can go into the voting booth and vote secretly the way they really want, can’t they? Tell me.”

      In order to ensure that their paid voters vote the proper way, parties give the voters a ready made ballot with their party checked off. They demand that the voters cast this ballot, and bring them back the blank ballot that is inside the voting booth. Only after receiving the blank ballot do they pay the voter.

      This was told to me by an opposition member, former adviser to LTP, whose regime was not immune to fraud.

      I hope this clears it up.

  2. Davo jan, your questions are fair and seem well intended but….well….., need a
    long (dissetation) answer.

  3. avatar ARMENIAN // May 8, 2012 at 8:19 pm // Reply

    DEAR DAVO, ANHOGH YEGHIR
    IF YOU EXPECTING DEMOCRACY IN EAST, PLESE WAIT FOR 100 YEARS
    BUT
    IN ARMENIA SINCE WE ARE MORE “CIVILIZED” AND I AM A L ITTLE BIAS WE NEED MAYBE 50+ MORE YEARS

  4. “There is an old saying: ‘People get the government they deserve.’ It is as true for Armenians as for any other people.” –Not exactly, Davo. People didn’t elect their past governments in free and fair elections so these governments represented them. If people were able to get the government they deserved, we wouldn’t have a majority of semi-literate thugs in the parliament, because it is hard to believe that our nation consists of thugs or thug-sympathizers largely.

    • Arsen,

      People in Armenia elected LTP and his government in the first elections (not the second time). Did Armenians at least deserve that government ? It was the worst in my opinion.

  5. Sella,

    It can’t be said it was the worst in terms of composition: there were many intellectuals in the parliament in contrast to what we have today. Did Armenians deserve that government? I don’t think so. But remember that it was first ever free election after 75 years of totalitarian rule. Remember also that LTP’s clique won the majority of votes running on Artsakh liberation platform. My point is that had the elections been free, we would have members of other social layers represented in the parliament, not just thugs (well, mostly thugs). In this sense, it can’t be said that our parliament accurately reflects on the fabric of eligible voters of our society. Thus the saying ‘People get the government they deserve’ cannot be applied. After all, it’s just a saying, not an axiom.

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