By Karine Kalantarian
After months of resistance Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) agreed Monday to install transparent ballot boxes in all polling stations as an additional safeguard against possible irregularities in the upcoming presidential elections.
Under an agreement signed by the CEC and the Yerevan office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the government of Germany will purchase and deliver some 2,000 German-made plastic boxes to Armenia by February 11.
“I consider this to be another milestone on our path of democratization,” the chairman of the electoral body, Artak Sahradian, told reporters.
As recently as last November the CEC rejected one of its opposition member’s proposal to import such boxes ahead of the February 19, citing a lack of funds. The OSCE’s chief representative in Armenia, Roy Reeve, declined to specify how much the German government will pay for them.
That the CEC is likely to accept transparent boxes was first announced by the head of the OSCE’s separate election monitoring mission, Peter Eicher, at a meeting with opposition candidates’ proxies last week. The latter’s reaction to the news was very positive.
Opposition activists have long argued that transparency would complicate ballot box stuffing which was a serious problem reported during the previous presidential vote five years ago. They already allege other serious irregularities committed by President Robert Kocharian’s supporters.
One of the opposition candidates, Aram Karapetian, issued on Monday another statement alleging continuing government efforts to “clinch votes in favor of Kocharian” in violation of the law. The statement said, in particular, that various government structures are promising citizens vote bribes in the form of free electricity and winter fuel. It also claimed that school principals across Armenia are pressurizing their students’ parents into voting for the incumbent.
But Kocharian’s campaign spokesman, Vahagn Mkrtchian, strongly denied the claims. He said the opposition candidates themselves resort to “numerous irregularities” such as longer-than-allowed use of free airtime on state television. Mkrtchian admitted that many heads of local governments are actively campaigning for Kocharian, but said they are not using any government resources.