- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 March 21, 2003 

Civic Service: Yerevan school presidential election is a lesson in democracy

On March 15, 10 days after President Robert Kocharyan won re-election over Stepan Demirchyan, Presidential elections again were held.

This time it was not a continuation of the bad dream many saw over the past two months as Armenia elected a leader in a flawed and controversial process.

This time there were nine candidates for the presidential post. No bodyguards, no political advertisement, no demonstrations. In a dramatic departure from the real election, six of the candidates were girls.

These elections last Saturday took place in one of Yerevan's largest schools Mkhitar Sebastatsi, as it elected a student president through part of a project of the US "Step by Step" program.

"Candidates are pupils of the seven through 10 forms," said teacher of civil rights and history and faculty supervisor Gevorg Manukyan. "They are pupils who, besides having good marks, had also been welcomed and supported by other pupils and teachers and who wish to hold that responsible post."


Candidates attached their programs, slogans and pictures to the school walls and they, influenced by the past elections, had been visiting polling stations carefully watching the election's process. Voters had been attentively reading pre-election programs, looking at pictures and loudly discussing who they were going to vote for.

It is the first time the educational complex (which consists of several schools and has a few thousand students) has held such an election, and the program is aimed at helping students understand the rights and responsibilities of voting in a democracy.

"Of course, this year's Presidential elections taken place in the republic have left its influence on all of this," said school director Ashot Bleyan. "But I think it is also the children's own verdict as these days pupils' democracy is so highly expressed that it must have been displayed this way."

The students' democracy was manifested in the sole polling station, which was located in the white and marble hall of the school. In the center of the hall a chair and a table for voting were placed. A big voting box was placed in the distance of several steps away in front of the table. Proxies were watching that box. However, the real fuss was taking place outside the polling station, where friends and relatives of the candidates were trying to persuade voters to vote for their candidates.

One of the most active campaigners was teenager Garnik Sargsyan, who since morning had been convincing everyone he knew or he didn't to vote for his brother.

"I give hope. I say that everything will be much better if my brother is elected," Sargsyan said. "I've already managed to convince many people, of course sometimes it happens when I'm insulted."

Following rules designed for the real Presidential elections, no campaigning was allowed inside the school's polling station. And, like the real thing, supporters were hoping for appointments to their candidate's administration as reward for their efforts.

Democracy is high among students director Bleyan says.Manukyan said the school president will form his or her administration and each member of the administration will be responsible for different sectors. Pupils' administration of the school will be responsible for improving cultural, scientific, sport and other fields as well as creating cooperation with other schools.

The elected president will serve the school year. And, if his or her performance is not satisfactory, a student council has the right to impeach and call for extraordinary elections.

Having made their choice based on campaigns, students approached the table, marked a ballot, then folded it four times before placing it in the ballot box - all under the watch of seven proxies.

"In general, the elections passed without serious violations," said proxy Emma Grigoryan. But 15-year old Emma said a couple of proxies were trying to influence votes inside the polling station "which is regarded as a serious violation of the regulations. Of course we tried to prevent cases like that as much as possible."

According to the regulations' order the calculations of elections' results lasted several hours. The polling station was closed, voting box was opened and calculation had been started, during which proxies were present.

And, just like in the February 19 Presidential election for the Republic, first round voting at Mkhitar Sebastatsi resulted in a runoff.

Students will return to the polls tomorrow to choose between Sergey Sargsyan, 15 and Astghik Abrahamyan, also 15.

"Let's hope that everything will be normal," Bleyan said. "If the president is elected legally then we will respect and cooperate with the pupil for sure."


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  Photo of the week
  Minor Protest
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Minor Protest

Members of "Mister and Miss Armenia", an organization that produces children's pageants and contests held a beauty protest outside the United States Embassy in Yerevan Thursday. The kids recently were in Iraq, and wanted to demonstrate their feelings to the US presence here.



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