Schoolchildren, teachers and other public-sector employees have been pressured to attend election campaign rallies held by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Friday.
In an interim report, the election observation mission deployed by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said its members have witnessed such instances in at least two parts of the country since the start of campaigning for the May 6 parliamentary elections.
“While Article 18.6 of the Electoral Code prohibits campaigning and distribution of campaign material by pedagogical staff and in educational institutions, OSCE/ODIHR long-term observers (LTOs) reported a number of cases of teachers and students involved in the HHK campaign,” reads the report.
“In Echmiadzin, on 11 April students and teachers were released from school to attend an HHK rally,” it says. “On 14 April in Arabkir (a district of Yerevan), teachers asked students to attend, after classes, an HHK rally with President [Serzh] Sarkisian. LTOs observed HHK majoritarian candidates (constituencies 19 and 21, Armavir province) campaigning in schools with students and teachers present.”
According to Armenian media reports, the practice has been the norm across the country during both the current and previous election campaigns. HHK representatives insist, however, that Armenians willingly attend campaign gatherings featuring speeches by Sarkisian.
The OSCE/ODIHR mission also cited other instances of “the use of administrative resources” by the ruling party, including the announcement by an ambulance of an HHK rally in the southeastern town of Kapan. “OSCE/ODIHR LTOs also noted staff from the local tax office discussing that they had been released early from work on condition that they attended an HHK rally in Talin (Aragatsotn province) on 20 April,” it said.
Also catching the mission’s attention was the distribution of tractors by Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman leading the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a member of the governing coalition. BHK critics have denounced the practice as a form of vote buying banned by the Electoral Code. Tsarukian aides deny any connection with the BHK campaign.
The OSCE observers believe, however, the tractors have appeared in at least six Armenian provinces “de facto as part of the party’s campaign.” “According to a Prosperous Armenia brochure, the party attached importance to the creation of tractor stations in all provinces,” they noted.
The mission was otherwise generally satisfied with the course of the campaign so far. “Contestants are generally able to campaign and have been provided with free venues and poster space,” says its report. It also praises the Central Election Commission and its territorial divisions for working “in an open and transparent manner.”
The OSCE/ODIHR mission is the largest international team to observe and assess the conduct of the upcoming elections. It is due to have about 300 members by polling day.