Liisa Ansala: Further democratic consolidation needed in Yerevan also outside the polling stations

A 10 member electoral assessment team from the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe – headed by Liisa Ansala (Finland, ILDG) and including two representatives from the EU Committee of the Regions – concluded yesterday its mission to observe the elections to the Council of Elders of Yerevan which were held on Sunday in the Armenian capital. During this vote, held on the basis of the amended 2016 Electoral Code, Voter Authentication Devices (VADs) were in use for the second time, after the Parliamentary elections of 2 April, which allowed the Congress delegation to assess the implementation of both the new legal framework and the new electronic system to identify voters and prevent fraud.

On Election Day, four Congress’ teams visited some 100 polling stations in the different administrative districts of Yerevan(Kentron, Nork-Marash, Avan, Qanaqer-Zeyt’un, Nor-Nork’, Erebuni, Nubarashen, Malatia-Sebastia, Schengavit’, Davt’ashen, Achapnyak and Arabkir) where the VADs (which contained electronic copy of the voters’ lists and provided for the electronic registration, the printing of a voting pass and the scanning of the fingerprints) were functioning smoothly throughout the whole voting procedure. In addition to the VADs, web cameras were installed in all polling stations in order to prevent electoral fraud, notably multiple voting and family voting, and to ensure transparency during the opening of the polling stations and the counting of the ballots at the end of the E-Day. The amended Electoral Code provides also for the publication of the signed voters lists after the elections, since the accuracy of the voters’ lists and voter impersonation were among the long-standing challenges of the electoral management in Armenia.

In addition to the new technologies, the Congress observers were able to assess the quality of the election administration at the level of the Precinct Election Commissions (PECs) whose members, including the IT specialists in charge of processing the VADs, all received training by the Central Election Commission which was overall positively evaluated. In general, the Election Day was calm and orderly in Yerevan, with the exception of some incidents which were reported to the Congress’ members and include also allegations of vote-buying and double-voting.

“The amended Electoral Code and the new technical measures have certainly improved the situation inside the polling stations. However, there is further democratic consolidation needed also outside. As it was the case during the 2 April Parliamentary elections, also during the Yerevan elections our delegation heard allegations of vote-buying and bribes as a systemic problem in Armenia. In addition, there is the issue of pressure on public service employees and misuse of administrative resources. In the majority of places visited by our observers on Sunday there were groups of people loitering around outside the polling stations creating an overall atmosphere of controlled voting. This is also relevant with regard to the busses bringing groups of voters to polling stations which we have observed. All these issues need to be taken seriously by the authorities in order to increase the trust in elections and in the administration in general”, stated Congress’ Vice-President Liisa Ansala.

“The fact that on Sunday only some 40 percent of the voters participated in the Yerevan elections is an alarming sign and shows the high level of political apathy and mistrust in the political system. The improved electoral framework and the new technologies to prevent fraud on E-Day are very welcome by the Congress and have increased transparency. Nonetheless, much more needs to be done to address the root cause of apathy and frustration about politics in Armenia”, Liisa Ansala concluded.

Further to the electoral assessment mission of the Congress, a report will be prepared and discussed at the next meeting of the Monitoring Committee on 27 June 2017 in Kharkiv (Ukraine).

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