The newly reelected chairman of Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) on Friday acknowledged a lack of public trust in the integrity of the electoral process but insisted that the CEC is not to blame for that.
Garegin Azarian claimed that Armenian elections are perceived as fraudulent by many Armenians because of opposition parties and candidates unjustly crying foul after their poor performance shown by official vote results.
“We always have more than ten parties participating in elections,” Azarian told a news conference. “Even before registration, they claim to have at least 65 percent support. Some of them pass the 5 percent vote threshold.”
“But if you add up all those numbers [claimed by the parties] you get about 999 percent. We were taught something different in school,” he said.
Asked whether he too bears responsibility for this negative public perception, Azarian said, “Of course. I can’t teach everyone what elections mean and how they are organized.”
Azarian went on to claim that all presidential and parliamentary elections held in Armenia since 2003 have been generally free and fair despite serious violations reported by domestic and Western observers. “Falsified elections and falsifications during elections are different things,” he said.
In all of those elections, official results released by the CEC showed the establishment candidates and parties cruising to a landslide victory. They sparked opposition allegations of widespread fraud and anti-government demonstrations.
The biggest street protests took place in the aftermath of Armenia’s last presidential election held in February 2008. Ten people died and about 200 others were injured as the Armenian authorities quelled those protests.
President Serzh Sarkisian, the disputed winner of the 2008 vote, last week similarly complained about the unwillingness of opposition forces to accept official election results giving victory to the incumbent contenders. He said that has been a key source of political tension in the country.
Speaking at the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg last month, Sarkisian pledged to “spare no effort” to ensure that parliamentary elections due in Armenia next year are democratic. He pointed to new amendments to the Electoral Code that were enacted by his administration in May.
One of those amendments led to the formation of a new CEC through a mechanism which the authorities say ensures its independence. However, the 7-member electoral body continues to be dominated by government loyalists, a fact underscored by Azarian’s reelection as CEC chairman on Thursday.
Opposition representatives say this alone shows that the new Electoral Code will have little bearing on the conduct of future Armenian elections.