BY URSULA KAZARIAN
In an unprecedented effort, approximately 100 Diasporans, both visiting and repatriated, as well as local Armenians and non-Armenian expats, have been working with approximately 160 election observers from civil society organizations such as Transparency International, and Asparez Press Club, Gyumri, to monitor the upcoming Yerevan municipal elections this Sunday, May 5th.
On Election Day, the observers will be at polling stations across Yerevan and will document, record, and videotape any fraudulent activity that may take place, such as ballot box stuffing, multiple voting, attempted bribery, and voter intimidation.
The group will be providing Diaspora media outlets with information in real-time that we encourage you to follow. Watch for updates from observation mission team members on Election Day, May 5th.
Also, visit and “like” the Yerevan Media Center Facebook page to keep up with the latest news directly from the observers in the polling stations. And of course continue to get updates from Asbarez.
This undertaking was inspired in part by Diasporan Narine Esmaeili, who witnessed systemic fraud during the Armenian presidential election in February.
Following the election, Esmaeili reported that she had been physically assaulted and threatened by polling station officials when she attempted to protest violations of Armenia’s Electoral Code as they happened. According to a video interview in which Esmaeli recounted her experience, she had witnessed a group of 25-30 men walk into the station and surround the ballot box.
When she protested, Esmaeili says one of the men in the group pushed her against a wall and pinned her there with her hands pressed together, while polling station officials cut open the ballot box seal and allowed one of the men from the group to pour in a bag full of marked ballots. Later, local police officers arrived at the polling station and told Esmaeili to be a “good girl” and not to talk to the media. Watch Esmaeli’s full video testimony here.
Despite these and other observer reports of egregious violations of the Electoral Code, the international observation mission rubber-stamped the election as generally “well-administered” and “characterized by a respect for fundamental freedoms.”
The formal statement was met with heavy public criticism, and some individual observers strongly disagreed with the main findings. As OSCE mission observer Dermot Ahern said:
“I’ve been a practicing politician here in Ireland for 32 years, contesting and winning every election I personally fought in. I was director of [the] elections board at [the] national and local level[s] for my party. I have never witnessed anything like this. From my experience, I know a trend when I see one, and something very strange happened to overturn the result.”
Bolstered by the overwhelming evidence of widespread, massive fraud during the presidential elections, the local-Diaspora monitoring mission has trained a total of 250 volunteers to observe the May 5th Yerevan elections. The group believes that a well-organized and well-trained election observation mission is critical to prove claims of fraud and associated criminal activity.
The local-Diaspora monitoring partnership believes that widespread media coverage of live observation reports from the precincts is crucial in attracting strong public support to hold authorities accountable for the accuracy and veracity of the official election results. In addition to training with the local observation missions, the Yerevan-based Diaspora team is working with Diaspora media outlets to provide reliable updates in real-time.
This Diaspora observation mission will also serve as a foundation and learning experience for its organizers, who intend to coordinate similar missions in future elections. A positive reception of this effort will fuel greater local-Diaspora cooperation in the future towards the common goal of strengthening the democratic process in Armenia.
The result of this coordinated effort will necessarily inform the structure and nature of grassroots Diaspora assistance in the future. It is therefore important to follow the activities of this pioneer group, not only during the election, but also in the subsequent days and weeks, in order to fully ascertain the added value that coordinated Diaspora assistance may provide to the overall impact of the mission.