By Emil Danielyan
Armenia registered on Sunday the lowest ever voter turnout in its national elections held since independence as the popular mood of political cynicism and apathy reached new heights.
According to the Armenian Central Election Commission (CEC), some 1.16 million people or 50.35 percent of 2.3 million eligible voters took part in the parliamentary elections and the referendum on constitutional amendments. The highest abstention rate was registered in Yerevan where the CEC put the turnout at just 39.3 percent.
The final nationwide participation figure was higher than expected as the CEC had reported earlier that only 31 percent of the voters cast their ballots as of 5 p.m. local time, three hours before the closure of polling stations.
The unprecedented lack of public interest in the polls was particularly high in the capital Yerevan where election officials were left wondering why hundreds of thousands of people are effectively boycotting them despite four weeks of heavy campaigning by the main political parties.
“I don’t know how to explain this scant influx of voters,” said Manvel Simonian, chairman of a precinct commission in the city’s southern Erebuni district. Less than a fifth of the listed voters there took part in the polling by 4 p.m.
“I think that the people are now more passive than they were during the presidential elections,” said Gohar Grigorian, chairwoman of another Erebuni polling station which posted similar turnout figures at about the same time. “I think people will start coming here in larger numbers in the evening,” she added.
The situation was essentially the same in other parts of Yerevan which accounts for at least one third of the country’s electorate. In the northern Zeytun district, for example, the turnout stood at just over 30 percent two hours before the end of voting.
The highest voter turnout, 66.8 percent, was in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province, according to the CEC. Voter participation has traditionally been higher in the rural areas.
The voter turnout has never been below 50 percent in the Armenian parliamentary and presidential elections. Official figures put it at 62 percent during the February 19 first round of the presidential vote and at 63 percent during the March 5 run-off. The opposition rejected the numbers as grossly inflated at the time. It might take a similar stance against the latest official turnout.
It is not clear which party or bloc will suffer most from the lack of public interest in the legislative polls. Many of those who stayed at home on Sunday are likely to be opposition supporters disillusioned with fraud allegations that have marred every Armenian election held since 1995.
As one opposition proxy suggested, “The people are apparently sick and tired of elections. They think that their vote will not be counted.”