By Astghik Bedevian
A senior election official made on Friday a public confession of his role in what he described as a blatant falsification of Armenia’s last presidential and parliamentary elections and the November constitutional referendum.
Spartak Yeghiazarian, who heads the electoral commission in Oshakan, a big and ancient village in the central Aragatsotn province, claimed that he and his colleagues forged voter signatures and stuffed ballots to help President Robert Kocharian get reelected in 2003 and enact his constitutional amendments.
Officials results showed Kocharian winning the largest numbers of votes in Oshakan during the 2003 presidential elections criticized as undemocratic by Western observers. According to Yeghiazarian, the incumbent president in fact came in third, trailing his two main opposition challengers: Stepan Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian.
“The elections were a disgrace,” Yeghiazarian told a news conference in Yerevan. “We all had to support the president’s candidacy, but the counting of ballots showed that he won only 12 percent of the vote. Mr. Demirchian was in first place and Mr. Geghamian was in second.
“We had committed ourselves to earning Kocharian 60 percent of the vote. We counted all ballots marked for Kocharian, Demirchian and Geghamian, but gave Kocharian 60 percent anyway.”
Yeghiazarian, who had been appointed to the electoral commission by Kocharian, said that he and his colleagues were similarly instructed to falsify the results of the November referendum. According to the Central Election Commission, a record-high 1.5 million Armenians took part in the vote and over 90 percent of them voted for the constitutional changes proposed by Kocharian.
However, the reported high turnout sharply contrasted with unusually empty polling stations witnessed by journalists and referendum observers across Armenia on polling day. The Armenian opposition said the real turnout stood at 16 percent, alleging a massive fraud.
Yeghiazarian endorsed the opposition allegations, describing just how the referendum was rigged. “We had been handed the lists of voters that also contained their passport numbers and dates of birth. “For three consecutive nights, forged signatures were put [to those lists] by the election commissions across the region.”
“In reality, only 60 people [in Oshakan] took part in the referendum. And yet we ‘painted’ 1,649 ‘yes’ votes,” added the election official.
Yeghiazarian, whose days as commission chairman now look numbered, claimed that he hesitated to come forward with his purported revelations earlier on because of being “periodically” intimidated by provincial authorities. He said he has already written to Kocharian’s staff, Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian and even Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian admitting to what is a serious crime under Armenian law only to be told by them to “go away.”
The Armenian authorities have long been under Western pressure to track down and prosecute individuals who have committed serious vote irregularities. Calls for their punishment were most recently made by the Council of Europe and Western governments in the wake of the November 27 referendum.
However, law-enforcement authorities have still not prosecuted any of the officials in charge of its conduct. Armenian prosecutors have brought criminal charges only against three ordinary voters who allegedly cast three extra ballots in place of their friends and relatives on November 27. In a statement last January, the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly dismissed those cases as a parody of justice, saying that the three men “seem mere scapegoats allowing the authorities to evade their political responsibilities.”
Yeghiazarian is the first head of an Armenian election body to publicly admit having perpetrated serious fraud. The Armenian opposition was quick to pick up his statements, with Geghamian’s National Unity Party (AMK) helping the official hold the news conference in the parliament building in Yerevan. Both the AMK and Demirchian’s Artarutyun alliance demanded an official investigation.
However, Yeghiazarian’s confession was dismissed by some representatives of the governing coalition. As Levon Mkrtchian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) put it, “The right place for repentance is church.”