- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 March 7, 2003 

Another vote, another round of accusations as Armenia awaits runoff results

Pre-marked ballots were obtained by two Yerevan dailies. As Armenians marked their Presidential Election ballots with hope for a new future, early indications are that past irregularities are still very much part of the present election process.

With two hours still to go before polls close local and foreign observers are saying today's runoff looked much like February 19's preliminary, which the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said "did not meet international standards".

"I inform you that the application is not written by me. I do not agree with the application and ask to restore my authorities as a commission member."In fact, one international observer called today's process "worse".

On February 19, President Robert Kocharyan fell .5 percent short of the required 50 percent to win outright. Stepan Demirchyan was the runner-up with 28.2 percent.

The Demirchyan/Kocharyan runoff, this one on the 50th anniversary of the death of Josef Stalin, is a repeat of five years ago. In 1998 Kocharyan faced Demirchyan's father, Karen, who later became one of eight assassination victims when terrorists stormed Parliament October 27, 1999.

Early evaluations came as Central Election Commission reports were showing a slight increase in voter turnout over the preliminary. As of 5 p.m., 50.02 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, compared to 43.82 percent at the same time on February 19.

Representative of complaints reported to journalists or observers were:

  • In the Yerevan district of Nor Nork several hundred soldiers were brought to vote. Before casting the votes, soldiers were observed showing their marked ballots first to an officer and then to a Kocharyan proxy.

    An OSCE observer reported that the soldiers stopped the process upon learning that an international observer was on hand.

  • Artak Sargsyan, 27, a Demirchyan voting station proxy at Arabkir district School No. 132 says he was beaten by police who accused him of interfering with the election process.

    Sargsyan says police started to pull him from the station and when he resisted they took away his brother Armen, also a proxy, and also confiscated Artak Sargsyan's car.

    Sargsyan was not injured but his clothes were torn.

  • In Echmiadzin kindergarten employee Kanarik Galstyan told ArmeniaNow she was offered a chance to vote twice. Further she says she was threatened with being fired if she did not vote for Kocharyan.

    The kindergarten where she works is a poling station, however her registration is at Public School No. 11 next door.

    The director of the kindergarten is also in charge of its poling station and according to Galstyan told his employees to "go to the school and vote and then come back and vote here. The rest is not your problem."

    "If they're breaking the law and it is not discovered, it is better for me," Galstyan said. "I'll go there and vote for Demirchyan and then come here and vote for him again."

Poling stations opened at 8 a.m., and by noon Demirchyan's team had already declared the runoff flawed.

Two Yerevan newspapers had made the same assessment even before the voting began.

Aravot ("Morning") and Haykakan Zhamanak ("Armenian Times") each had front page stories and photographs today of ballots, some marked in favor of Kocharyan and some blank, stamped and ready to be placed in voting boxes.

Both papers said ballots were delivered to their newsrooms late last night.

"According to some estimation from 400 to 600 signed and stamped ballots have been taken from poling stations throughout the country," Aravot wrote, adding that it had sent two copies of the ballots to all the embassies in Yerevan.

Neither newspaper said how they obtained the ballots.

Allegations of wrongdoing began to fly from Demirchyan headquarters late yesterday, when campaign aides accused election authorities of plotting against Demirchyan by disallowing his representatives on various electoral commissions.

Opposition parties accused officials of trying to manipulate election returns by ridding commissions of Demirchyan-affiliated members. Some were dismissed, election officials said, because they had not attended pre-election meetings. But Demirchyan aides countered that those accused of absenteeism had not been notified of the meetings.

Deputy chairman of the Central Election Commission Hamlet Abrahamyan confirmed that commissioners were resigning or were being removed "en masse".

ArmeniaNow has obtained a letter showing that in at least one of those cases one commission member says he was not the author of his "resignation" letter.

The one-sentence hand-written letter, written February 26 says: "I ask to be exempt from responsibilities of a commission member."

But Aram Zakaryan says he did not write that letter and appealed to Electoral Commission District 6 president L. Danielyan.

"I inform you that the application is not written by me. I do not agree with the application and ask to restore my authorities as a commission member."

A representative of one of several international monitoring groups told ArmeniaNow late today that matters were "not looking good" toward improvement over previous elections. Ask to compare today's reports of violations to those reported during the preliminary election, the representative said today was "worse".

And the head of It's Your Choice, a non-governmental organization with 1,000 election monitors (300 in Yerevan and 700 in the regions), Harutyun Hambartsumyan, said that though it was too early to draw comparisons to February 19, his group has reports of "numerous irregularities".

(ArmeniaNow reporters Zhanna Alexanyan, Zara Chatinian, Suren Deheryan, Marianna Grigoryan, Julia Hakobyan and Vahan Ishkhanyan contributed to this report.)


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  Photo of the week
  Head of State
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Head of State

President Robert Kocharyan was elected to a second term.



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