Landmark elections in Armenia: turning the tide or preserving the status quo?
On 10 May, EED, in partnership with the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF), held a discussion on the significance of Armenia’s recent parliamentary elections - the first since the country’s transition to a parliamentary system by virtue of a referendum.
The event brought together four civil society experts to share their views on issues surrounding the elections held 2 April. After the hastily organised constitutional referendum in 2015, a new Electoral Code introduced complex voting procedures, adding to the already widespread disillusionment in the electoral process. In response, Armenian civil society worked to increase voter literacy, fight against electoral fraud and monitor media coverage. Trained observers were deployed in around 90% of the country’s polling stations in an effort to bolster voter confidence.
EED partner and Program Coordinator at the Union of Informed Citizens Daniel Ioanissyan explained how the Armenian government employs discreet and innovative methods to falsify the electoral process, given the country’s reliance on international support. He also presented his investigation into misuse of administrative resources whereby school principals were pressuring their staff and students’ parents to vote for the ruling Republican Party across the country.
Sona Ayvazyan, Executive Director of the Transparency International Anti-Corruption Centre in Armenia and member of the Citizen Observation Coalition, argued that, despite measures introduced to tackle election fraud, distortions of the electoral process persisted in various forms. She explained that Armenians saw their attendance at the polling station merely as a ceremonial act rather than as an exercise of their democratic rights.
She also recalled the deep concerns voiced by civil society during the referendum in 2015. Given the unprecedented level of electoral violations uncovered, Ayvazyan said that, in her view, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission had been wrong to endorse government’s change to a parliamentary system.
Speaking about the systemic nature of the violations in the electoral process, Haykuhi Harutyunyan, President of Protection of Rights without Borders NGO, a human rights lawyer and a member of the EaP CSF Steering Committee, pointed to the absence of accountability and punishment for the electoral corruption. While over 700 complaints on electoral violations were reported, only 19 were taken into account by the authorities.
Boris Navasardian, President of Yerevan Press Club and EaP CSF Steering Committee member, highlighted the important role of broadcast media in the electoral process. He also mentioned covert means employed by the government to try to restrict the media sphere in Armenia via, for example, the digital switchover, which gave unfair advantage to selected TV stations to promote their message.
In addition, MEP Heidi Hautala presented her experience as the Head of the European Parliament’s Election Observation Mission to Armenia. Hautala also noted that the EU should be critical about the country with which it is entering serious contractual relations.
Reflecting on the positive outcomes, speakers noted the unprecedented number of citizens (over 3,000) who had taken part in the independent observation missions, a resource that could be further tapped on in the future.