By Anush Dashtents
The largest international group to monitor the upcoming presidential elections in Armenia was bombarded on Thursday with complaints of vote irregularities voiced by representatives of the main opposition candidates.
Meeting with the U.S. head of the monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Peter Eicher, they claimed that the authorities are falsifying voter lists, illegally using government resources and bullying opposition supporters to ensure President Robert Kocharian’s reelection.
“All over the country, the heads of local governments, social security services and other government officials are members of Kocharian’s campaign offices,” a leader of the opposition National Democratic Party, Dustrik Mkhitarian, told Eicher and several members of his team.
Mkhitarian and other opposition proxies said local government chiefs are preparing for a massive buying for votes and are collecting voters’ passports for that purpose. Grigor Harutiunian, the campaign manager of opposition candidate Stepan Demirchian, complained that many of Kocharian’s campaign offices are located in government buildings, which is illegal under Armenian law. He said some of those offices are based in the polling stations.
A representative of another opposition candidate, Artashes Geghamian, claimed that law-enforcement agencies are trying to intimidate his campaigners.
Ending the two-hour meeting, Eicher, said the OSCE monitors have already heard such allegations and are currently looking into them. Speaking about the persisting inaccuracies in voter lists, he said: “It’s not possible for a foreign group of our size to get a complete verification of millions of voters. That’s for the Armenian authorities to do.”
Eicher also said that the chairman of Armenia’s Central Election Commission, Artak Sahradian, supports the idea of having plastic, transparent ballot boxes in all polling stations. He said Sahradian promised to discuss the matter with other members of the CEC.
In an interview with RFE/RL on Monday, Eicher described the February 19 vote as a “big challenge for Armenia.” “I think it’s a test this time to see whether the authorities have progressed far enough to run an election which is really clean and really meets international standards,” he said.