OSCE Proposes Guidelines for Run Off Elections

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–Serious violations have been reported at 15 percent of election precincts under the observation of the OSCE mission. That number would have affected the election returns if the first round of election was the final one–said Sam Brown–special representative for the OSCE Election Observation Mission–presenting the mission’s preliminary report Wednesday.

At the invitation of the government of the Republic of Armenia–on Feb. 14 the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission began to observe preparations for the election. During the pre-election phase–the mission met frequently with all candidates. As election day approached–OSCE/ODIHR deployed almost 200 international observers to all parts of Armenia. Additionally–OSCE/ODIHR cooperated with the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly The delegation includes 12 representatives from eight member-countries.

The OSCE Observation Mission deemed that the pre-election campaign relatively smooth–although marred by violence in Ararat on March 8 when 8 people were injured including two requiring hospitalization. The statement also pointed out that "the Ministry of Interior reacted quickly–arresting 4 people and criticizing the police chief for "failing to keep public order," a repetition of any such event would have a serious impact on our assessment of the election."

OSCE observers visited more than 800 polling stations on election day–more than half the total of all polling stations in Armenia. Following the close of the polls–they observed the counting of the votes. Observer teams then followed the results through numerous Community Electoral Commissions and all eleven regional electoral commissions. The statement suggests that of the polling stations observed–most had diligent Precinct Electoral Commission members seeking to implement the law properly and to fulfill their duties.

According to the statement–the greatly reduced electoral calendar had a negative impact on the preparation of voting lists–the establishment of lower level election commissions and the preparation of polling stations.

Emphasizing that the voting process proceeded well in most cases–the OSCE document said that there is clear evidence of ballot box stuffing in at least three precincts and there is substantial evidence of attempts to stuff ballot boxes in several more precincts. These incidents will be detailed in the mission’s final report.

In connection with military voting–observers noted problems–including directed voting by superior personnel–officers in the polling place–problems with military voting lists–and questions concerning voting by hospitalized military personnel. Additionally–the level and speed of communication between the Defense Ministry and the Central Electoral Commission regarding mobile ballot boxes for soldiers did not live up to earlier promises–thus hampering the transparency of the process.

As a visible use of state resources–Brown mentioned two incidents of distribution of one candidate’s campaign literature with customs forms on incoming Armenian Airlines flights from Amsterdam and Moscow and the distribution of kerosene out of a candidate’s headquarters in Yerevan. According to him–there is no discernible pattern of orchestrated events–and the over-zealousness of individual supporters appears to be to blame. However–in the final analysis candidates can and should be held responsible for the actions of their supporters and "we anticipate such leadership during the next phase of the election."

The preliminary report of the OSCE Election Observation Mission expressed deep concern over the presence of unauthorized and frequently unidentified personnel–particularly Ministry of Interior personnel–in polling stations–which "created an atmosphere of intimidation in polling stations." Police and ministry personnel were observed to be present and sometimes actually involved in the vote count.

The OSCE document stated that–although sometimes continuing–there were steps taken to correct the 1996 practice of extreme media bias. "Despite efforts to treat candidates fairly–statistical monitoring showed continuing imbalance in state-run media gave disproportionate coverage to the incumbent candidate in comparison to all others–while in the case of certain private media–this was also true for their favored candidate. It was hoped that the trend toward impartiality–coupled with greater depth of reporting on substantive issues–will insure that the electorate will be in a position to make a more fully informed choice during the second round."

It was suggested that the government of Armenia and the Central Electoral Commission should take immediate steps to address the problems outlined in this statement prior to the second round. "The March 17 statement by the government is a welcome first step in this process. Over the longer term we look forward to the communication of the critically important election reform process which was deferred due to this election," the statement reads.

Brown assured that the preliminary and the final report of OSCE observers would not be significantly different.

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