Yerevan Vote Marred By Serious Violations, Say Local Monitors

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s largest election-monitoring organization gave on Tuesday a largely negative evaluation of Sunday’s mayoral elections in Yerevan, reporting a wide range of irregularities.

The independent group It’s Your Choice, which deployed observers in all of the city’s 439 polling stations, listed in its preliminary report concrete instances of ballot stuffing, multiple and illegal voting, voter intimidation, presence of unauthorized personnel, and other procedural violations. It also deplored pre-election violence, reports of widespread vote buying, pro-government parties’ reliance on their “administrative resources” and their tight control of election commissions.

The report concluded that the May 31 elections “further deepened voters’ disappointment with political parties and electoral processes.” It said although they marked a “small improvement” over last year’s local polls in Yerevan districts, “there are no sufficient grounds to believe that these elections passed the threshold of democratic, fair and transparent elections.”

Presenting the report, the head of It’s Your Choice, Harutiun Hambardzumian, said voting was particularly fraudulent in the city’s Malatia-Sebastia district, scene of the largest number of irregularities reported by the Armenian opposition, media and observers. He said It’s Your Choice monitors witnessed ballot box stuffing in five local precincts.

“Ballot stuffing occurred when large groups of voters made their way into those polling stations and caused uncontrollable situations,” Hambardzumian told a news conference. “Also, in almost all Malatia-Sebastia precincts, there was an atmosphere of fear. We were unable and even not allowed to monitor the voting there in great detail.”

That there were serious problems in Malatia-Sebastia is acknowledged by the Armenian authorities. The Office of the Prosecutor-General on Monday urged the Central Election Commission (CEC) to order vote recounts in eight local precincts.

The Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement agency subordinated to the prosecutors, said on Tuesday that it has arrested a pro-government member of one of those commissions and another Malatia-Sebastia resident on suspicion of “falsifying vote results.”

Sona Truzian, the spokeswoman for the prosecutors, specified that the SIS has evidence of the two men adding “fake ballots” to the precinct vote tally. She said that as part of the criminal investigation all ballots cast there will be recounted at the Office of the Prosecutor-General on Tuesday. Journalists will be able to attend the recount, she said.

The precinct in question was also the scene of a reported assault on two journalists and an election observer who witnessed the ballot stuffing. The SIS has pledged to investigate the attack.

According to Truzian, the SIS has also opened criminal cases in connection with fraud reported by Armenian media in six other Malatia-Sebastia polling stations. “It is possible that criminal cases will also be opened in connection with violations in other precincts,” she told RFE/RL.

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