By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s largest election-monitoring group warned on Thursday that the upcoming local elections and constitutional referendum can not be free and fair without a thorough revision of the notoriously inaccurate lists of the country’s eligible voters.
The organization called the Choice is Yours concluded after a month-long monitoring in Yerevan and other parts of the country that the voter registers remain deeply flawed despite the Armenian authorities’ pledges to correct them.
“Not only the referendum but also the local elections must not be held with such voter registers. These lists are terrible,” the Choice is Yours chairman, Harutiun Hambartsumian, told a news conference.
“Many people who don’t find their names on the lists don’t bother to go to court,” he said. “They just don’t care. Just imagine how many people won’t be going to polls.”
Voters in five of Yerevan’s ten administrative districts will elect their community prefects and “councils of aldermen” this Sunday and on September 25. A tense race is unfolding in the central Kentron district whose government-backed incumbent is challenged by a senior member of the opposition Artarutyun alliance.
Hambartsumian said Choice is Yours activists have examined the voter lists in those constituencies and found that they still contain the names of people who died long ago, while omitting those of many living voters. He said there were 14 such inaccuracies in the voter registers of one apartment building in the northern Nor-Nork district alone.
The inaccurate lists have been one of the sources of electoral irregularities in Armenia. International organizations have long urged its government to finally sort them out. The authorities in Yerevan moved to remedy the problem in May by shifting responsibility for drawing up the registers from local governments to the police.
But Hambartsumian said police divisions have hardly done a better job, suggesting that the authorities are deliberately keeping the lists inaccurate in order to continue to manipulate elections. Similar claims were made recently by an opposition member of Armenia’s Central Election Commission. The CEC chairman, Garegin Azarian, denied them, however.