Armenian Parliamentary Election 2012

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Armenian Ruling Party Set To Claim Election Victory

Emil Danielyan

Preliminary official results of Armenia’s parliamentary elections released on Monday morning gave a landslide victory to President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) that will enable it tighten control of the National Assembly.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) said that with more than 90 percent of ballots counted, the HHK received just over 44 percent of votes cast under the system of proportional representation. Its junior partner in the governing coalition, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), came in a distant second with 30.3 percent of the vote.

According to the CEC, all other major election contenders fared much more poorly, winning just enough to be represented in the parliament. The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) finished third with just over 7 percent. It was followed by two other major opposition groups, the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which had roughly 5.8 percent and 5.7 percent respectively.

Orinats Yerkir, the third party represented in Sarkisian’s coalition government, got 5.48 percent, also passing the legal vote threshold for having parliament seats on the party-list basis. Armenian law reserves 90 of the 131 parliament seats for the proportional representation system.

The CEC vote tally also showed that the ruling HHK grabbed at least 28 of the remaining 41 seats that were distributed in nationwide single-mandate constituencies. The vast majority of them are wealthy businesspeople heavily reliant on their government levers and financial resources. No opposition candidate seems to have won in any of the single-seat districts.

The HHK was thus on course to have at least 70 seats in the new Armenian parliament. Its faction in the previous legislature officially numbered 63 members.

The BHK, which prevailed in 7 single-mandate districts, should increase its representation from 26 to 34 seats. The party led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian apparently had more ambitious electoral goals, though.

There was no official reaction to the preliminary vote results from the BHK and the three main opposition forces as of Monday morning.

Speaking at a joint news conference held shortly before the release of the first official figures at midnight, senior representatives of the BHK, the HAK and Dashnaktsutyun brushed aside as “extremely incredible” the CEC claim that more than 62 percent of Armenia’s eligible voters took part in the elections, accusing the authorities of grossly inflating the turnout. In a joint statement, they said that figure is “only deepening suspicions regarding the legal course of the elections.”

At the same time, the three political forces refrained from delivering a common verdict on the authorities’ handling of the vote and its legitimacy. They said they need at least several more hours to process all the relevant information and work out a joint stance.

But HAK coordinator Levon Zurabian did condemn the elections as “disgraceful,” saying that the authorities have resorted to “the full range of falsifications” to secure an election outcome sought by President Sarkisian’s party. “The regime once again had a chance to see that it cannot cling to power without vote rigging,” he told reporters.

Zurabian also made clear that the opposition bloc will go ahead with a rally in Yerevan’s Liberty Square planned for Tuesday regardless of Dashnaktsutyun’s and the BHK’s positions.

Western Observers Give Mixed Assessment Of Armenian Poll Conduct

Emil Danielyan

International observers gave a mixed assessment of Armenia’s parliamentary elections on Monday, praising the pre-election environment in the country but reporting irregularities in a “significant number” of polling stations on voting day.

In their preliminary findings that clearly fell short of the Armenian government’s expectations, the nearly 300 observers mostly deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) avoided stating whether the vote was democratic.

“Armenia deserves recognition for its electoral reforms and its open and peaceful campaign environment but in this race several stakeholders too often failed to comply with the law and election commissions too often failed to enforce it,” said Francois-Xavier de Donnea, a Belgian parliamentarian who led head short-term OSCE monitors. “As a result, the international commitments to which Armenia has freely subscribed were not always respected.”

“The election campaign was open and respected fundamental freedoms, and the media offered broad and balanced coverage during the official campaign period,” said Radmila Sekerinska, an observer mission leader representing the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

Representatives of smaller monitoring teams deployed by the European Parliament and the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) agreed with this conclusion. Emma Nicholson, who led the 27-strong PACE team, expressed concern over “reports of widespread interference with the running of polling stations, voters’ movement and casting of votes throughout the day by certain political parties.”

​​“The authorities must address this unacceptable behavior before the presidential election next year,” Nicholson told a joint news conference with de Donnea and Sekerinska.

The observers’ joint preliminary report on Sunday’s election similarly refers to “undue interference” in the voting process, presumably by activists of pro-government parties, among various violations. “While opening procedures were assessed positively in almost all polling stations observed, voting was assessed negatively in 10 per cent, which is considerable,” says the report. “Unauthorized people, mostly proxies, interfered in or directed the work of 12 per cent of the [precinct election commissions] observed,” it adds.

The observers assessed “negatively” ballot counting in almost one-fifth of the observed polling stations. “Unauthorized people participated in one in four counts observed,” they said. “International observers reported isolated cases of serious violations, such as falsification of results or protocols (four cases) or indications that ballot box stuffing had occurred earlier (five cases).”

The observer misson did not to clarify whether it thinks these and other reported violations influenced official vote results that gave a landslide victory to President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).

“It is not only outside of our mandate to comment on this, but it’s really technically difficult to assess whether these kinds of deficiencies or irregularities have changed the opinion of the voters,” said Sekerinska.

Vote buying was the principal fraud allegation voiced by the Armenian opposition even before the closure of the polls on Sunday evening.

In Sekerinska’s words, it was “very difficult” for the mainly Western observers to verify the vote buying claims. “Even people who have claimed that they were part of a vote buying scheme decided not to come forward with information and personal declarations,” she explained.

Opposition leaders also cried foul after it emerged on Sunday morning that ink stamps meant to guard against multiple voting routinely disappeared after being put on voters’ passports. The observer’s report notes in this regard that the special ink used for the procedure “should have remained visible for 12 hours but faded much faster.”

Armenia’s previous legislative polls held in May 2007 were judged by a similar OSCE-led mission to have been held “largely in accordance with international standards for democratic elections.” Western monitors gave a similar assessment of the Armenian presidential election of February 2008, which was marred by fraud allegations and a deadly government crackdown on the opposition.

The Armenian authorities have made no secret of their hopes to secure an even more positive international verdict on the latest vote. President Sarkisian and other top officials have repeatedly pledged to do their best to hold the most democratic election in the country’s history.

The observers were clearly more critical of the authorities’ election conduct this time around, however. When asked to sum up their findings, de Donnea said, “In some areas, these elections are better than the previous ones. In other areas, there is status quo and a potential for improvement. In other areas, there might be a setback and also a greater potential for improvement.”

EU Hails ‘Progress’ In Armenian Election Conduct

Emil Danielyan, Rikard Jozwiak

08.05.2012 The European Union on Tuesday reacted positively to the Armenian authorities’ handling of weekend parliamentary elections and said it will press ahead with plans to deepen political and economic ties with Armenia.

“We welcome the efforts by the Armenian authorities to hold these parliamentary elections in a way which represents progress towards more transparent and more competitive elections,” EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said in joint statement.

“However, the elections also demonstrated the need to address a number of issues in order to fully meet internationally recognized democratic standards,” Ashton and Fuele said. “We encourage the Armenian authorities to address the shortcomings that were identified by the OSCE/ODIHR as a matter of priority, ahead of the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for next year.

“At the same time, we welcome that six political parties will be represented in the National Assembly. We believe this is a positive step towards the development of a pluralistic and democratic political culture in Armenia.”

In a remark that seemed primarily addressed to the opposition, the EU officials also urged Armenian political groups to “refrain from unlawful acts” in the wake of the elections controversially won by President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK). “The constructive dialogue between authorities and the opposition is very important for the consolidation of stability in the country,” they said.

​​Armenian leaders have repeatedly pledged to ensure the proper conduct of the elections in their talks with top EU officials. Sarkisian personally gave such assurances during a March visit to Brussels. His prime minister, Tigran Sarkisian, said at the EU headquarters late last year that the May 6 vote will be the most democratic in Armenia’s post-Soviet history.

A spokeswoman for Ashton, Maja Kocijancic, was asked by RFE/RL in Brussels whether the EU believes the authorities in Yerevan did hold on Sunday the cleanest election yet, Kocijancic said, “We believe that there is progress towards more transparent and more competitive elections.”

Kocijancic also made clear that the election conduct will not adversely affect the EU’s visa facilitation and free-trade talks with Armenia. “I believe that the relations that we have with Armenia will continue as planned,” she said.

Yerevan and Brussels are expected to launch formal negotiations on the creation of a “deep and comprehensive free trade area” later this month.