BY NANORE BARSOUMIAN
From The Armenian Weekly
YEREVAN—Disappearing stamps, unidentified men, escorts, and multi-votes: Facts and rumors painted a chaotic image of the elections as they happened in eight polling stations visited by the Armenian Weekly.
Stamps disappearing from voters’ passports became one of the first news items on voting irregularities on the morning of May 6, when Armenians went to the polls for the Parliamentary elections. The stamps were intended to leave no trace behind within 24 hours. However, some disappeared in less than an hour.
One man pointed at the far right corner of a clean page in his passport, “It was right there,” he told the Armenian Weekly. He voted at 8:05 at polling station 6/02, minutes after the polls opened. By 8:40, the ink had entirely disappeared, he said. All but a tiny speck remained (see photo).
The eight polling stations the Weekly visited included one in the Kentron (central Yerevan); and seven in Achapniag district, a poorer area in Yerevan (there are 41 districts in the country, and around 2,000 polling places). Most followed the rule of allowing no more than 15 voters into the voting area. Entrances at all but one station were quite crowded, where patience seemed to run low. Party representatives, and sometimes observers and journalists stood or sat in the voting area, provided they had the proper identification card, while between one and four dozen people loitered around the buildings.
Little black cameras were propped up high above voters, or stationed at the corners of desks. Six parties had agreed to install the cameras in as many polling stations as they could. Although they might have caught visible voter fraud practices, spotting some of the more serious allegations may prove to be an almost impossible task.
Some of the allegations at the polling stations the Weekly visited included suspicion that some voters used red pens on the ballot, as part of a vote buying scheme—in hopes that ballots marked with red would be counted to make certain that all the “purchased” votes are there. There were also rumors that vanloads of voters were being driven around to various polling stations to cast multiple votes using different identification cards. The Armenian Weekly was unable to verify these claims.
One observer the Weekly spoke with confirmed rumors that men escorted small groups of people. “Some men were coming back after voting, which is illegal. They would return, and escort others in. We told the chairman of the local election commission, and they got thrown out,” Ani Karapetyan from Kentron TV channel told the Armenian Weekly.
Karapetyan noticed another problem as well. Two or three men without identification badges were sticking around in the voting station. When she asked them where their badges were, they said they were representatives of the Republican Party, and claimed their ID cards were in their pockets. Karapetyan told them that they were required to have them in a visible place. They left soon after, without showing her their badges.
The Weekly experienced a similar incident, when a man asking not to be photographed failed to produce the required badge. The man who claimed he was a representative of the Republican Party, and who was frequently interacting with voters, left almost immediately after the Weekly inquired about his identity and the absence of his identification card.
What seemed strange was the presence of observers, and even journalists, who seemed unaware of what organization they represented, or had to check their badges to identify themselves. One such man remained in the lobby of the school that served as a polling station for the entire hour the Weekly was present there. He asked the addresses of voters and directed them either towards the right, or left—to either of the two polling stations.
In another particularly chaotic polling station an argument broke out between a Republican Party and Prosperous party representatives. The latter claimed the Republican was standing too close to the cardboard cubicle where voters cast their ballots.
The Weekly was also alerted about a picture of President Serzh Sarkisian—who heads the Republican Party list— at the aforementioned voting station. Keeping his picture in the voting area would be tantamount to campaigning, which is prohibited within polling stations.
In the neighboring polling station—separated by a line of low benches unable to stop the flow of people between the two stations—the chairman suffered from an epileptic seizure. The station was closed to voters for around 40 minutes.
iDitord.org, a website that allows observers to submit their reports, shows that there have been 1,036 instances of voting irregularities. These included 283 reports of bribery and pressuring; 178 cases of campaigning; and 134 instances of disruptions of the voting process. Some of the reports claim that when people approached to register their vote, it was revealed that their names had been crossed off already—in other words, others had voted in their name. One observer said “Pjni” mineral waters bearing the name of the Republican Party were distributed in one district. Another observer said that a “carousel” was organized at polling station 11/02, where a pre-marked ballot is given to a voter who has to return with an unmarked one in order to get paid.
So far, the preliminary results show that the Republicans received the most votes, 44.35 percent; they were followed by the Prosperous Armenia Party, with 30.26 percent; the Armenian National Congress, 7.1 percent; Heritage party, 5.79 percent; the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, 5.73 percent; the Country of Law party, a member of the current governing coalition barely cleared the 5 percent threshold, the Armenian Communist Party, 1.06 percent; and the Armenian Democratic Party, 0.36 percent.
The Central Electoral Commission has said official results will be publicized in a few days, while all parties reserved their announcements for Tuesday.
In all, 90 of the 131 seats in parliament will be allotted according to the percentage of the vote given to a political party. The remaining 41 seats were determined in individual candidate elections.