‘Independent Observer’ Alliance presented observation results of RA NA elections of April 2, 2017 and Yerevan City Council elections of May 14, 201716:41, June 16, 2017 | News, Own news | Electoral Rights
At its presentation held in Yerevan on June 13, 2017, the ‘Independent Observer’ Public Alliance presented the working versions of the reports prepared as a result of observing the RA NA elections of April 2, 2017 and Yerevan City Council (Council of Elders) elections of May 14, 2017.
The observation mission was carried out with the financial support of the Council of Europe and the European Union, European Endowment for Democracy, Open Society Foundations-Armenia, Sigrid Rausing Trust, Embassy of the Czech Republic in Armenia and Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
Welcoming speech was delivered by Artur Sakunts, Chairman of ‘Independent Observer’ Alliance member Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor, and Natalia Voutova, Head of the Council of Europe Office in Yerevan.
In her speech, the latter highlighted the role of the electoral process monitoring in terms of human rights protection and democracy building. She also referred to cooperation with HCA Vanadzor and highlighted its role and efforts in the electoral processes programs carried out in Armenia by the Council of Europe. She specifically emphasized that representatives of the RA Human Rights Defender’s Office and the RA Central Electoral Commission also attended as speakers the workshops and trainings held before the observation mission.
In the end of her speech, N. Voutova expressed a hope that the cooperation with the ‘Independent Observer’ Alliance will be continuous.
A. Sakunts thanked the Council of Europe Office in Yerevan and Mrs. Voutova for their assistance and referred to the role and significance of the Council of Europe and the European Union in both supporting the observation mission, and generally in development and maintenance of democracy in Armenia. He also emphasized that the financial support of the European Endowment for Democracy made it possible to involve a larger number of observers.
Then, Vardine Grigoryan, Democracy Monitoring and Reporting Coordinator at HCA Vanadzor, Daniel Ioannisyan, Program Director at Union of Informed Citizens, and lawyer Artur Harutyunyan, Legal Analyses Specialist at HCA Vanadzor and senior lawyer at ‘Independent Observer’ Alliance presented the findings of the observation mission.
Vardine Grigoryan presented the methodology of the observation mission and mentioned that they selected the polling stations with the highest voter turnout at the Constitutional Referendum to protect the voting rights of as many people as possible. She also presented the observation tools used by the observers to monitor the whole electoral process.
Then she referred to the violations identified during the organization of the election campaign and voting and made comparisons between the RA NA elections of April 2, 2017 and the Yerevan City Council elections of May 14, 2017.
According to observers’ opinion, more than half of the polling stations were inaccessible or not enough accessible. At both the NA elections and Yerevan City Council elections, overcrowding of voters were identified at around 40% of the polling stations. At the NA elections and at Yerevan City Council elections, facts of taking voters in groups to polling stations were identified at 17% and 33% of polling stations, respectively. At the NA elections and at Yerevan City Council elections, there were problems with electronic registration equipment at 77% and 83% of the polling stations, respectively.
According to the ‘Independent Observer’ Alliance observation, the main problem at the both elections was control over the election in its different forms.
V. Grigoryan also referred to the number of women’s representation in the NA by stressing that the number of women in the NA was still small. She emphasized that the presence of territorial candidates in the proportional electoral system was a mechanism that gave the local underworld a chance to bring votes and mandates to the party.
And Daniel Ioannisyan referred to the logic of distribution of votes between the parties and conditioned it by different starting positions, financial resources and the fact that representatives of parties were civil servants; in this terms, the leaders are the ruling parties. According to him, this also leads to the abuse of administrative resources.
One of the problems revealed as a result of the observation mission is the impossibility for the territorial electoral commissions to accept electronic applications. D. Ioannisyan noted that availability of such a possibility would make the process more efficient. There is a relevant suggestion in the reports.
Artur Harutyunyan, senior lawyer at ‘Independent Observer’ Alliance presented the work done by the law group within the observation mission and referred to the applications filed with the court on violations of voting rights. He mentioned that HCA Vanadzor filed with the administrative court claims on failure of the CEC to provide proper responses to the applications submitted by the Alliance and the court currently examined those claims. A. Harutyunyan added that there was already a precedent as the court accepted the applications filed by the Organization to protect the rights of an observer. Before, such applications were not admitted by courts.
A. Harutyunyan also presented the current problems and suggestions on ensuring more effective communication with the electoral commissions and more rapid response to violations of the electoral law.
To sum up, A. Sakunts, Chairman of HCA Vanadzor, mentioned that it was planned to prepare in the nearest future a report on police actions in the electoral processes based on the police officers guideline.
Then he presented his concerns and suggestions regarding the electoral processes and qualified the elections as non-free. Particularly, he highlighted the necessity to create conditions for the observers not to be persecuted for their opinion, qualify violations of the voting right as a crime against the state and impose stricter sanctions, include the Venice Commission’s recommendations in the Electoral Code and ensure execution of the voting rights of RA nationals living abroad.
Tigran Mukuchyan, Chairman of the RA CEC, presented his observations and suggestions on the reports. Later the CEC will provide written suggestions as well.
Kristina Gevorkyan, representative of Europe in Law NGO, referred to the incident when the representatives of an observation mission were asked out and then came back again with a certificate of another organization. The complaints on such incidents filed with the CEC resulted in no consequences and those cases were already brought before the administrative court.
K. Gevorkyan also touched upon various forms of pressure on observers resulting in their withdrawal of their crime reports or complaints.
S. Hovhannisyan, representative of the RA Prosecutor General’s Office, provided his observations noting that 80% of the materials prepared on violation of the voting right were based on the reports by observation missions.
Other civil society members present at the discussion also shared their opinions.
Transparency International NGO representative Heriknaz Tigranyan highlighted the publication of the reports on the observation missions and referred to abolition of tests for observers by noting that it was a positive step forward. She also noted greater attention by the CEC to the financial statements of the parties and registration of observation missions and highlighted the possibility for the observation missions to challenge before the court of law violations of their observers’ rights.
Avetik Ishkhanyan, Chairman of Armenia Helsinki Committee, said that there was no trust in the judicial and legal system, the problems identified by such reports often got no solutions, law-enforcement bodies were not consistent in reducing violations and asked a rhetorical question, “So, what’s next?”
The Reports on the observation of the RA NA elections of April 2, 2017 and Yerevan City Council elections of May 14, 2017 are still edited and will be published later.
The founding members of ‘Independent Observer’ Public Alliance are: Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor, Union of Informed Citizens, Martuni Women’s Community Council, and Goris Press Club NGOs.