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Election Body Defends Yerevan Poll Conduct


Armenia - Garegin Azarian, chairman of the Central Election Commission, holds a press conference in Yerevan, 19Jun2009

Armenia - Garegin Azarian, chairman of the Central Election Commission, holds a press conference in Yerevan, 19Jun2009

The chairman of Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) defended on Friday the conduct of the May 31 municipal elections in Yerevan, saying that reported irregularities were not widespread and serious enough to affect vote results.

“There were problems only in 18 out of 439 precincts,” said Garegin Azarian. “Even assuming that all that [reported fraud] occurred and vote results in those precincts are null and void, nothing will change in the distribution of [municipal council] mandates.”

President Serzh Sarkisian has likewise given a positive assessment of the elections, official results of which gave a landslide victory to his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and its mayoral candidate, Gagik Beglarian. In a major boost to the HHK, observers from the Council of Europe described the elections as largely democratic.

Their conclusion sharply contrasted with vote buying and other fraud reported by opposition representatives, mass media and Armenian civic groups that monitored the vote. The United States has also been highly critical of the authorities’ handling of the polls. In a statement last week, the U.S. mission to the OSCE headquarters in Vienna deplored “widespread fraud and intimidation” during the polls, saying that it “repeated a disturbing pattern of similar violations witnessed in previous elections in Armenia”

Azarian insisted, however, that the reported violations were not widespread. He also pointed to the arrest and prosecution of three election officials and the annulment of vote results in several polling stations. All of them are located in Yerevan’s Malatia-Sebastia district.

Zoya Tadevosian, one of the two opposition members of the CEC, scoffed at Azarian’s remarks, saying that irregularities occurred all over the city. “I have credible information that neighborhood figures were handed 3 million drams ($8,000) each to buy the government candidate 200-300 votes in each precinct,” she claimed.

The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) has also alleged widespread fraud, demanding a re-run of the vote. The CEC has rejected the demand, leading the opposition alliance to take legal action. Armenia’s Administrative Court controversially refused to take up the case last week, however. The HAK is now awaiting judgment from the higher Court of Cassation.

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