By Emil Danielyan
Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were on Friday checking the veracity of the first-round vote results with Armenia’s’ Central Election Commission after detecting some discrepancies in the official figures.
“We have found a few discrepancies which we are trying to check out and see what the explanations may be,” Peter Eicher, the American head of the monitoring mission, told RFE/RL. He said representatives of the mission raised “very specific questions” during their meetings with CEC officials which were still going on as of late afternoon.
“We have also found a couple of discrepancies from protocols we had from polling stations on election night which were different in the final tally,” Eicher said, referring to the detailed precinct-by precinct breakdown of the February 19 vote results publicized by the CEC at the OSCE’s urging.
“But we don’t know if there is a logical explanation to this. Perhaps there was a recount in those districts that we are not aware of. So there are factual questions like that that we really need to get clear answers to before we start making comments about the nature of discrepancies.”
Eicher added that it is therefore too early to say how significant the discrepancies are. “We are still checking. This is a complicated process,” he explained.
The OSCE observers, who inspected hundreds of polling stations on voting day, are primarily comparing copies of the vote protocols they were given there after the counting of ballots to the official results subsequently posted by the CEC in order to make sure that there was no fraud. According to Eicher, they have also attended vote recounts in four electoral districts comprising several precincts each and found “some evidence of ballot box stuffing” in one of them.
“In one of the envelopes with ballots that was opened, there was a stack of ballots which have never been folded but have been counted,” he said. “We were concerned that in that particular case the result was not changed as a result of this.”
Eicher said the observers are also looking into the “extremely high” voter turn-out of more than 90 percent reported by the CEC from some polling stations. “This is so much above the national average that it of course raises questions,” he argued.
According to the CEC, 62 percent of 2.4 eligible voters cast their ballots in the first round. Some opposition leaders claim that the figure is inflated and includes thousands of pre-marked ballots allegedly stuffed into the ballot boxes by supporters of incumbent Robert Kocharian. All major opposition candidates have refused to recognize the first-round outcome, alleging widespread fraud. The Kocharian campaign strongly denies the charges.
Still, numerous reports of ballot box stuffing appear to have been a key reason why the OSCE-led mission, which also comprised officials from the Council of Europe, concluded last week that the Armenian vote “fell short of international standards in several key respects.”
Eicher questioned officials results from dozens of polling stations, according to which Kocharian won more than 95 percent of the vote. In some rural precincts, Kocharian was shown taking 100 percent of the votes. “We have been to a lot of elections, and you don’t normally see a polling station where 1,733 vote exactly the same way,” Eicher said. “There is quite a lot of polling stations which are showing very, very high results for the incumbent president.”
Eicher further pointed to the fact that Kocharian polled more than 80 percent of the vote in three central Yerevan precincts, which is much more than he was shown winning in all other areas in the city center. But he would not comment on possible reasons for the “huge difference.”
Asked to comment on government allegations that opposition supporters were also involved in vote irregularities, the OSCE official replied: “In terms of concrete evidence, I’m not sure."