BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
YEREVAN—Voters across Armenia on Sunday went to the polls in the first elections for the legislature since a new constitution was adopted in 2015 that changed Armenia’s government to a parliamentary system. According to preliminary results by the Central Electoral Commission 60.8 percent or 1,574,947 registered voters.
After polls closed at 8 p.m. local time, the arduous task of counting the votes in each precinct began. While some media outlets, citing exit polls are predicting results, the Central Election Commission is updating results as it receives them.
The new constitution has ushered in a new electoral code and reformed voting mechanisms, to minimize violations that have marred previous elections in Armenia. Of the 2009 polling stations around Armenia, 1,500 of them were equipped with cameras that broadcast the proceeding live on the official elections website, elections.am. The new system also includes fingerprint recognition machines, which aim to match the voter’s identity with that of his/her passport. While during the early hours of voting some technical difficulties were reported, including reports that one of the machines did not recognize President Serzh Sarkisian’s fingerprint at his polling place
Despite these safeguards, information about sporadic voter intimidation and election-related violence were reported from poll monitors at precincts from throughout the country. From individuals disrupting the voting process to more serious allegation of electioneering within the polling place, which turned into a verbal altercation and threats against a poll monitor from the precinct head are just a sample of complaints conveyed to Asbarez, from poll observers in Arabkir, Zeitun and other areas in downtown and on the outskirts of Yerevan.
A more violent incident occurred earlier on Sunday, when a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and were physically assaulted by individuals who were affiliated with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
RFE/RL reported earlier that a correspondent for its Armenian service, Sisak Gabrielian, was attacked after he noticed that many voters in Yerevan’s Kond neighborhood were visiting a local campaign office of the Republican Party of Armenia just before going into a nearby polling station and casting ballots there. Some of them had cash in their hands as they left the office.
After Gabrielian approached them for comment, the Republican Party affiliated individuals wrestled his cellphone, on which he was filming the incident and hit him in the process. According to RFE/RL, suffered minor injuries to his face.
Also in Kond, a female reporter was attacked by a group of angry women outside the Republican Party of Armenia office when she started filming people visiting it. Armenia’s Prosecutor-General’s office said it had urged the police to investigate.
At the close of the polls, the Prosecutor-General’s office had received 1594 election-related complaints, of which it has deemed 254 as worthy of investigation. These allegations range from bribery, voter intimidation or instances where poll workers or monitors have impeded the voting process.
Aghvan Vardanyan, the chairman of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Supreme Council of Armenia and a candidate in Sunday’s elections has appealed to the Central Election Commission and the Prosecutor-General, Artur Davtyan, accusing the Republican Party of Armenia members of intimidating voters at Gegharkunik and Araghatsotn provinces.
He specifically pointed to incidents in Gegharkunik’s town of Chambarak, where Republican Party of Armenia supporters told ARF and opposition party or bloc representatives to leave local polling stations. He blamed a local Republican Party of Armenia candidate inciting violence in some villages in the Aragatsotn province.
Elections dominated the discussion in the country in the days preceding Sunday. In Yerevan, where this reporter talked to a cross-section of the population, almost 100 percent indicated that they would take part in the elections and expressed their preferences for the one of the nine political parties or election alliance blocs vying for 101 seats in the new parliament.
An unprecedented 28,000 election monitors converged on Armenia for the elections. They included Diaspora Armenians who partnered with local non-government organizations to become poll watchers.
A monitor from the Council of Europe told me that while he has observed previous elections in Armenia,, the new ruled and mechanisms has made this election a better experience.
This sentiment was shared by an elderly voter who asked to help her down the stairs at her polling place. She said that in the last 25 years she has voted in many elections. “But this one was different. It was better.”