Armenia Votes for New Parliament Constitutional Reforms

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Citizens of Armenia went to polling stations on Sunday to vote in parliamentary elections–as well as a referendum on constitutional changes to broaden parliament’s limited powers. Tough there are no final results on the constitutional reforms package–preliminary figures from 50 of 56 voting districts reveal that of the 1,083,740 votes cast–510,464 are for the changes–while 548,391 are against; 5,849 are undecided.

The preliminary parliamentary election results–announced by the Central Election Commission late Monday–showed the Republican Party of Armenia garnering 278,029 votes–about 24 percent of the national vote to likely gain 23 of the 75 parliament seats contested under the system of proportional representation. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation won about 11 percent of the proportional vote with 135,096 votes to gain approximately 11 parliament seats. Orinats Yerkir with 146,035 (12.33%) will likely gain 21 seats. The Justice party gained 160,796 to take 13.58% of the vote–and the National Unity Party got 103,938 with (8.78%) of the vote.

Twenty one parties ran in the poll–with only a handful clearing the five-percent barrier required to enter the chamber.

Political observers had predicted the Republican Party would continue to dominate the 131-seat National Assembly–where aside from the 75 seats distributed between the parties–the rest are decided by single-seat mandates. Results from these contests in local constituencies–which account for the remaining 56 seats in parliament–have not yet been released.

Central Election Commission chief Artak Sagradian said Monday that 1,234,546 million people–51.5 percent of Armenia’s electorate–cast ballots. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the elections featured improvemen’s compared to the earlier presidential vote.

More than 400 observers from the OSCE and nine other international organizations–including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)–were accredited to monitor Sunday’s voting.

Polling places used transparent ballot boxes in an attempt to prevent vote tampering.

Still–Giovanni Kessler–head of the OSCE delegation that monitored the vote–said the vote fell short of international standards because of "a number of serious incidents and shortcomings."

In a statement Monday–the OSCE said irregularities included falsification of results–intimidation of observers and violations of ballot secrecy in military voting.

"The low turnout is a clear indication of the lack of voter confidence in the electoral process and political institutions in the country," Kessler said.

Head of the PACE Observation Mission Lord Russell-Johnston–said he hoped those responsible for the irregularities would be punished so "there will be no return to the sense of impunity evident in the recent presidential election." Russell-Johnston also expressed surprise that voter participation registered at 43% only 30 minutes before the close of polls–while that index reached 51% after the close of polls.

The ARF has made no official statemen’s yet concerning the outcome–though its representative to the CEC pointedly refused to put his signature on the vote results.

In a scathing report the OSCE and the Council of Europe said many of the violations took place in full view of their election monitors.

They also said they were "shocked" by a shoot-out overnight outside a polling station in southern Armenia–during an inspection by observers–which left one man dead and three people injured with bullet wounds.

"Significant problems included falsification of the (vote tallies)–stuffing of ballot boxes–stealing of ballots and intimidation of international observers," said Robert L. Barry–the OSCE ambassador in Armenia.

"If this goes on under the eyes of our observers one can only imagine what happens in places where our observers are not there."

He added: "These parliamentary election displayed a marked improvement on the presidential election but we consider that they still fell short of international standards."

The OSCE representatives watched the voting process throughout 777 polling precincts; they supervised tabulation of voting at 67 of them. Feasible violations were registered at 30% of constituencies visited by the observers in the process of counting votes.

Meanwhile–observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) said that Sunday’s election was legitimate and democratic. "On the whole–the election was well organized and complied with the National Electoral Code," read a statement by Yuri Yarov–executive secretary of the CIS mission of observers.

Yarov–while admitting to some minor shortcomings in the course of preparations for the election–nevertheless said there had been no mass violations of electoral law and the expression of voter will was overwhelmingly free. The CIS mission had sent 51 observers to Armenia.

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