OSCE ODIHR Election Observation Mission Issues Preliminary Statement

OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission

Preliminary Statement by the Observation Mission to the Armenian Extraordinary Presidential Election Second-Round-30 March 1998

On 14 February–at the invitation of the Government of the Republic of Armenia–the OSCE/ODIHR began its long term Election Observation Mission for the extraordinary presidential elections. During the first round of voting on March 16–the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission deployed over 200 international observers to all parts of Armenia–visiting over 800 polling stations. On 18 March–OSCE/ODIHR–in co-operation with the Council of Europe and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly–issues a statement on that election which enumerated serious irregularities and areas for improvement.

As the second round election day approached–the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission deployed almost 140 international observers to all parts of Armenia. OSCE observers visited over 680 polling stations on election day–over 40 percent 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 most of the 11 Regional Electoral Commissions.

Overall–these elections are a step forward from the troubled 1996 elections toward a functioning democracy. However–in some areas–the elections fell short of the commitmen’s Armenia has made to OSCE standards. These shortcomings do not cause us to question their outcome. The election day activities were conducted calmly and in accordance with the law in the vast majority of districts. However–there were irregularities. In several instances–there is sufficient indication of vote fraud to require further investigation and possible criminal charges.

Integrity of the Vote and Vote Counting

In some precincts in Yerevan there were large discrepancies between signatures and ballots cast; in others there were clearly forged voter signatures; there are also clearly substantiated instances of ballot box stuffing; and in several polling stations extraordinary high turnout raised questions about the integrity of the process in those locations. Based on reports from our observers–it is safe to say that in polling stations where there was an exceptionally large turnout–particularly in comparison to the round–the voter signature lists should be examined and appropriate legal action–including criminal charges–should be pursued if fraud can be proved.

Military Voting

Between the first and second round of elections–the Ministry of Defense announced that the number of mobile ballot boxes would be reduced from 13 to 2. This is an important step toward dealing with an issue that has raised serious concerns due to the potential for fraud and abuse. It appears–however–that there was a third appropriate–and very limited–role and–with some exceptions–complied with regulations. In spite of the Gegharkunik problem–taken together–these actions resulted in a substantial improvement in the second round of elections.

Media Coverage

The access of candidates to the media in both rounds was significantly improved over 1996. All candidates were given opportunities to present themselves–underpinned by the provision of free and paid time in the state media. Statistical monitoring showed greater overall balance in the second round although state media continued to give greater campaign strategies adopted by the two candidates. Despite welcome efforts by the media to develop debate on issues–the campaigns remained focused on personalities rather than policies. Nonetheless–the public had sufficient opportunity in both state and private media to view–hear–and read about both candidates.

Unauthorized personnel

The presence of police–interior ministry–local authorities and other unauthorized personnel in polling stations was one of the most severe problems in the 1996 election. This was a central concern of OSCE/ODIHR because of the intimidating effect such presence can have. While both the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Security and Internal Affairs made public statemen’s on the issue of unauthorized personnel in polling stations–observers noted the same high level of unauthorized personnel in both the first and second rounds of the election although many of these were not affirmed with the security forces.

Posting of Protocols

Unlike past elections–the 1998 election saw precinct protocols posted according to law.

Foreign Voting

Concerns raised because of proposals for numerous extraterritorial polling stations were resolved by CEC action limiting the creation of polling stations outside embassy and consular representations abroad. This move–which helped to ensure accountability in overseas voting–substantially ameliorated the concerns of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission.

Use of State Resources

In the 1996 election–the machinery of the state was used heavily on behalf of the incumbent candidate in a systematic and abusive way. 1998 stands in marked contrast to this history. While this election is commendable in several respects–further reforms are needed that instrumen’s of state authority are not used to support incumbent candidates in future elections.

CEC/Election Administration

In light of the compacted election schedule–both for the first and especially the second round–the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) performed professionally. The provision of election results in a smooth and timely manner contributes to a greater trust in the electoral process. Unfortunately–many lower commissions–particularly at the community level–did not always contribute to the efficient operation of the electoral process. There are three particular areas for concern in the area of election administration:

The Complaints and Appeals Process–Particularly in Yerevan

A large majority of first round complaints from voters and campaigns were dismissed without investigation allegedly because of lack of time. The next several weeks offers an opportunity to ensure a complete review of complaints related to the second round. Additionally–the removal by the acting president without clear justification of a procurator investigating elections further weakens confidence in the complaints and appeals process.

Replacement of electoral commission members–was also acute in Yerevan. In a large number of precincts members of electoral commissions were replaced between the first and second rounds–sometimes with political motivation. Pluralistic–representative–stable electoral commissions should be ensured in the new electoral code.

Observers noted that voter lists were inadequately prepared for the election. Due to large population movemen’s–voter lists frequently included names of people who no longer live where there are registered and–conversely–do not include the names of many people who are newly resided in the area including refugees. Such inaccuracies provide opportunities for fraud and abuse opportunities which–in sporadic cases–were used. Establishment of a mechanism for ensuring accurate–current voter lists should be a priority for the government.

The OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission will issue a final report regarding both rounds of this election within the next few weeks. In that report a series of recommendations will be prepared for submission to the Armenian government regarding possible solutions to issues by the Election Observation Mission.

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