CEC Chairman Responds to OSCE Report

YEREVAN (Armenpress)–The following is the statement made by Khachatur Bezirjian–Chairman of the Central Electoral Commission–on the press statement of the OSCE observation of the first round of the Armenian presidential election:

"We would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm our willingness to work in collaboration with the OSCE. We were perplexed by your preliminary statement on the observation of the first round of the Armenian presidential election. After having carefully read the report–we would be grateful if you could clarify for us the different issues it addressed.

You mention the violence that took place in Ararat on March 8. Later on you note that the Ministry of the Interior reacted quickly to this deplorable incident by arresting four people. It should seem as though this is the only case of violence and we do not quite understand why the final press statement states that if such an event repeats itself–it would have an influence on your election report. By that statement–are you considering the second round of voting and–if so–are you not afraid that your press report will thus incite certain "people" to use violence in order to influence your future decisions regarding the second round?

The statement mentions the difficulties encountered with the voter lists as a result of the unexpectedness of the elections. You are aware of the efforts that were made in updating the lists right up to the date of the election and that the additional lists could contain in many cases a considerable number of new voters. We have heard that the Republic of Armenia has obtained–in this area–quite a success when compared to other evolving democracies in the world. We perfectly understand your statement that the election campaign proceeded quite smoothly–however not without problems. We completely agree with your point of view–because no election takes place without problems.

Two years ago an OSCE member–from the West–gave an example of wide-scale fraud that lead to recounts and prosecutions. We would like to know more about the 15 percent of "significant violations" which were reported. This figure implies–of course–that 85 percent were in conformity with laws and regulations.

You also regret that the first round of the election fell short of OSCE standards. This was quite a surprise to us as–after reading observation reports of elections in member states–we believe that the average standards applied to other countries is lower than the one that will be presented in your final report.

Voting Process

You give the general impression that the voting process was positive in most cases. Nevertheless–you stress that "at least in three precincts" there were examples of ballot stuffing. You also mention that you have "substantial evidence" of attempts to stuff ballot boxes in "several more precincts." We are of the understanding–of course–that these incidents were witnessed by observers and not merely reported to them.

Military Vote

We do not quite understand your comment on the military vote. You mention the presence of officers in the "polling place." You are well aware that in the English language "polling place" does not have the same meaning as "polling station."Polling place" designates the building where there are one–two or more polling stations and in that case the presence of an officer in a polling place is not illegal.

We do not understand your comment on the level of speed and communication between the Ministry of Defense and the Central Election Commission. The document from the Ministry of Defense dated March 13 was at the disposal of the OSCE–in our office–on March 15 and was taken by your representative on the morning of the 16th.

Use of State Resources

We are in full agreement with you about State Resources not being used for campaigning. We were surprised to learn that at this time of the year a candidate could influence a voter by giving him kerosene as kerosene in our country is used for heating. Nonetheless–we assume that you had all the data necessary about the identity of the persons involved before your wrote about the alleged "fact."

Police at Polling Stations

You mention the presence of unauthorized persons as well as non-identified personnel–particularly of the Ministry of the Interior–at the polling stations. If they were non-identified–how did the observers know they were from the Ministry of the Interior? Did the observers ask them or were they told informan’s? And do you really think that if asked by the observers–these non-identified persons would answer that they belonged to the Ministry of the Interior?

I am sure you are well aware–that all information has to be checked. We asked our legal department if there are any complaints about the "police and the Ministry personnel being involved" in the voting or counting procedures. Their answer was that–to this moment–we have received 73 complaints but not a single one regarding this issue.

Media Bias

You consider as positive the efforts made to reduce the bias in the coverage of the candidates’ campaign. We wish to remind you that there are two official television channels that are available throughout the country. Additionally–three private channels work in Yerevan. Furthermore–each large city has its own private channel. As far as the printed press is concerned–there are 457 papers registered. Of course–only a few are published either daily or weekly–but we do not know any democratic state that forbids the press from supporting a candidate during his or her electoral campaign.

We are aware of the difficulties of applying the electoral law. You are well aware that it should have been replaced by another one in April 1998 and it is only because of the unexpected resignation of the President of the Republic that it is still in use.

Please remain assured of our full collaboration with the OSCE in order to reinstate democracy in the Republic of Armenia.

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