By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) warned local government chiefs on Monday that voter registers in many of their constituencies are still inaccurate and may seriously affect the October 20 local elections unless they are quickly corrected.
“Despite all the assurances given by the provincial governors, we still have flaws in the voter lists,” said CEC chairman Artak Sahradian. “If we don’t eliminate them the international standing of our state will again suffer,” he added, referring to international criticism of widespread confusion that threatened to disrupt previous Armenian elections.
Scores of voters were turned back from the polling stations after not finding names in the registers during the 1999 parliamentary elections. The problem recurred during subsequent by-elections to the parliament and local government bodies.
Sahradian issued the warning at a special meeting called by Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian who has repeatedly pledged to ensure that the upcoming local polls are free and fair. It was attended by the mayor of Yerevan, government-appointed governors of the ten Armenian provinces and elected leaders of smaller communities.
The local chiefs were already told by the central government last June to revise their voter lists in time for the approaching local, presidential and parliamentary elections. Many of them claim to have solved the problem. But Sahradian cautioned that the situation is particularly worrisome in the northwestern Shirak province.
He also said that tension is running high between mayoral candidates and their supporters in the southeastern towns of Kapan and Sisian. According to reports from Kapan, which is the administrative center of the Syunik province, a conflict between supporters of the two main election contenders degenerated into a firefight last week. No casualties were reported.
The October 20 polls will be held in 654 of 930 Armenian communities, including the second largest city of Gyumri and several administrative districts in Yerevan. Media attention has so far focused on the tightening race in the capital’s central Kentron district whose incumbent head, Ararat Zurabian of the opposition Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) is facing a strong challenge from businessman Gagik Beglarian backed by the governing Republican Party.
Also high on the agenda of the meeting chaired by Abrahamian were logistical problems such as the absence of telephone connection with some remote rural communities. Local authorities’ phones, which are due to be used by election officials, have been cut off because of unpaid bills. Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Markarian promised to find a temporary solution for some of those communities by providing them with mobile phones.
But it remained unclear how the electoral bodies in other disconnected villages will deal with the problem.