Council of Europe and US State Department React to Constitutional Referendum

YEREVAN (Armenpress)–Council of Europe observers to Armenia’s November 27 Constitutional Referendum said in a statement on Tuesday they "regret" that additional international observers were not present–and pointed to the parliamentary opposition’s pull-out from electoral commissions as hampering the transparency of the referendum.

"It is also regrettable that political pluralism inside polling stations was not better assisted by a greater number of domestic observers," their statement said.

The 14-member delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Europe (PACE) Local and Regional Authorities noted that the Referendum generally reflected the free will of those who voted. However–on voting day the observers witnessed conditions in several polling stations which cast a shadow over the credibility of the officially announced turn-out.

The US Department of State’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs joined observers from PACE in questioning the number of voters who actually turned out at the polls. "The United States recognizes the substance of the provisions considered by the referendum as potentially strengthening democratic institutions in Armenia," but "shares the regret of the Council of Europe–whose observers called into serious question the voter turnout figures for the referendum reported by the Armenian government."

"We also regret that the Government of Armenia chose not to invite observers from the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights–who could have given greater credibility to the results of the voting," it said calling on the government of Armenia to investigate Council of Europe observer reports of abuses.

Prior to the referendum–the delegation had meetings with the authorities–opposition members–NGOs–media representatives–and the international community. The observers’ impression was that during the campaign leading to the Referendum there was not equal access to the media–putting the opposition at a disadvantage.

On voting day–the Council of Europe observers visited around 150 polling stations in the capital and across the country.

The general atmosphere was calm and no incidents of public disorder were witnessed. In the majority of the polling stations visited–the conduct of the poll was in compliance with international standards.

However–in some polling stations in Yerevan and other regions this was not so. The extremely low voting activity did not correspond to the high figures provided by the electoral commissions. The electoral regulations–requiring the stamping of the ballot after completion–created numerous situations where the secrecy of the vote was not respected. Military voting appeared to lack the voluntarism which is the hallmark of democratic participation.

Chief of Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC)–Garegin Azarian–has downplayed speculations of the opposition that more voters turned out for last Sunday referendum on constitutional amendmen’s than for the second round of 2003 presidential election.

Azarian cited from the final protocol of CEC–which says that overall 1,595,702 voters had cast ballots in the second round of presidential ballot compared to 1,513,541 votes in Sunday’s referendum.

In conclusion–both the European delegation and the US State Department expects that the CEC investigate thoroughly all the allegations brought to its attention and that all the necessary measures will be taken against those responsible for fraud. The delegation added–however–that the results of the referendum "reflected the free will of those who voted."

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