- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 March 14, 2003 

Election Summary: Independent agency says "electoral institutions have died"

Observers were humiliated Voskanyan says.sThe non-governmental agency (NGO) "It's Your Choice" released its report Monday from information gathered by 1,500 Presidential Election polling station observers.

While IYC concludes the seven page summary by expressing hope that future elections will be more fairly conducted, the report is a scorching indictment of the current voting process.

"My observers and I felt ourselves humiliated when in Echmiadzin 25 people were surrounding a voting box and stuffing it and we could do nothing," says the NGO's deputy head, Khachik Voskanyan. "Three cars were waiting outside keeping watch. Nobody tried to prevent it. People were afraid and they had just hung their heads. I couldn't come to myself for two days. We refused to observe second round of elections in Armavir Region."

Statements such as Voskanyan's are the anecdotal information supporting IYC's report which divides the elections into 13 categories, all with alleged fraud.

Members of the organization had actively participated in the formation of election laws and thanks to their lobbying the concept of local observers was included into the National Assembly deputies' law of 1999. The idea also was included into electoral legislation.

IYC has branch offices in all regions and in Yerevan communities and with some 4,000 observers is monitoring elections at every level. Volunteers are mainly women teachers, who are not members of any party. Many of them became volunteers in 1996.

The organization also organizes meetings between voters and heads of the communities in each region twice a month.

This year, 1,500 volunteer IYC observers were on hand in about 900 polling stations. Unlike international observers, who had been visiting different polling stations, observers of It's Your Choice were observing elections only in his or her polling station.

The report says voting violations occurred on many levels including ballot stuffing, names of the deceased or those no longer living in Armenia included as registered voters, names of children as young as six on voting lists and even accusations that some electoral commissioners changed the tabulation of votes to favor the eventual winner, President Robert Kocharyan.

(State media has reported violations on the part of the Opposition, however, the IYC report does not contain any such accusations relating to supporters of Stepan Demirchyan.)

"In one polling station Demirchyan's proxy had been so cruelly beaten that one eye was swollen shut. His eye was filled with blood and nobody, no policeman, did anything. Why? Because he tried to prevent stuffing," said an IYC observer coordinator who was afraid to tell journalists his name.

"We usually tried to send adult women observers to the most dangerous polling stations hoping that they wouldn't be beaten," the coordinator said. "One of those women, after she saw how the same person had voted six times, couldn't bear such a behavior and interfered. But that person told her that if she wanted to reach her home that she had better not talk too much. Another one, who interfered to prevent violation, was asked how much she wanted to be paid for staying silent. After the first round many observers refused to take part in the second round."

The IYC report says the organization didn't notice any improvement in voting practices between the February 19 first round and the March 5 runoff. In fact Voskanyan said the runoff had more violations than the preliminary.

Though it is not the first election to be monitored by the organization, Voskanyan says it is the first time observers are too frightened to tell their names.

"We haven't seen elections like this," he said. "We saw 'carousel' voting. We saw how people were secretly stuffing, but we have never seen how people without regard were openly stuffing in the presence of voters, observers and proxies. For me it's not important at all who will win. The important thing is that electoral institutions have died in Armenia. And I had great expectations."


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  Photo of the week
  Blooming Mad
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Blooming Mad

March 8 is always the Day of Women in Armenia. This year, however, it was the Day of Angry Women, as a few thousand took their bouquets into the streets to protest last week's Presidential runoff election.



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