- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 May 30, 2003 

Lower Turnout, Fewer Violations: International observers report on parliamentary elections

Members of OSCE and PACE and NDI said 90 percent of observed voting polls got a favorable report.

Last Sunday's parliamentary elections marked improvement over the recent presidential voting but failed to meet international standards in several key areas, says a report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Observers for the OSCE's office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights reported falsifications of vote count, intimidation of observers and proxies and violation of secrecy of the ballot during military voting.

At a press conference Monday Lord Russell Johnston, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe told journalists: "There was undoubted progress towards meeting international standards despite a limited number of reported incidents of a very serious nature."

In 90 percent of polling stations visited by international observers, the voting process was assessed as either positive or with minor problems.

Far from the tense environment surrounding the February and March presidential election and runoff, Sunday's election was generally calm.

But the day was marred by a shooting at a poling station in the village of Shahumyan (about 30 kilometers from Yerevan) that left one dead and several injured.

"We all were shocked by that incident," Lord Johnston said. "Several observers were present at the incident. Those who are guilty should be identified"

About 51 percent of all registered voters cast ballots, the lowest turnout in the history of independent Armenia.

"The low turnout is a clear indication of the lack of voter confidence in the electoral process and political institutions in the country," said Giovanni Kessler, the head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation. "Enhancing such confidence is the major challenge to the political leadership in Armenia."

The international observers noted several improvements in comparison with the recent presidential elections, particularly with regard to the campaign and media coverage.

While there were charges of bias in favor of incumbent Robert Kocharyan in the presidential elections, this time public television generally provided contestants with balanced coverage under equal conditions, observers noted. The statements by state officials calling for tolerance and condemning electoral violations contributed to an active and essentially peaceful campaign.

For the first time the Central Election Commission instructed Territorial Election Commissions to publish preliminary results according to poling stations.

Lord Johnston questioned the figure of the turnout, which according to Central Election Commission increased sharply during the last hour.

"I am mystified that the turnout was running at 43 percent an hour before the polls closed and then rose 51 percent," he said. "In my experience, Armenians vote in the afternoon.

"When people don't vote on a fine sunny day, it's either because they think it will not make any difference or because they distrust the way in which the vote will be counted," he said.

The Election Observer Delegation of the National Democratic Institute issued a preliminary report which says that despite improvements in certain areas of the electoral process over the last two months, Sunday's elections and referendum failed to cross the threshold for democratic elections.

"There is an atmosphere of cynicism, frustration and anxiety surrounding Armenia's electoral processes, evidenced by low voter turnout, lack of confidence in the ability of election authorities to act impartially and the absence of processes to effectively redress electoral disputes," the report says. "Nonetheless, political parties campaigned actively in these elections; domestic civic organizations mobilized to monitor the election process, and voting proceeded with fewer incidents than in past elections."

Sunday's parliamentary elections were the fourth since independence was declared in Armenia in September 1991 and the first since Armenia joined the Council of Europe in January 2001.

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Compared to the past presidential elections, the OSCE and other foreign observers said last Sunday's parliamentary election in places like Polling Station No. 0384 showed signs of cleaning up the messy voting system in Armenia.



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