Armenian officials are using states resources to campaign for President Serzh Sarkisian’s reelection and forcing public sector employees to attend his campaign rallies, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Thursday.
“While the state authorities have declared their intention to conduct elections in line with OSCE commitments, the distinction between campaign activities and state functions appears to be blurred, even where officials formally take leave in order to participate in campaigning,” the OSCE’s vote-monitoring mission in Armenia said in an interim report.
According to the report, nine out of Armenia’s ten provincial governors as well as many town and village mayors took leave to help Sarkisian win a second term in the ballot scheduled for February 18. Those officials typically run Sarkisian’s major campaign offices across the country.
The OSCE report says that some of those offices are located in state or local government buildings in breach of Armenian law, listing at least seven such cases.
The mostly Western observers also gave more weight to media reports that schoolteachers and other public employees are forced to attend Sarkisian rallies. “In Yerevan on 25 January and Vanadzor on 30 January, teachers were instructed to attend the incumbent’s campaign events and were required to submit their passport numbers to the school director,” reads their report. “The municipality of Kapan on 23 January called the schools to inform of the incumbent’s upcoming rally.”
The report says that similar orders were also issued to staff of an unnamed medical institution in Vanadzor.
Illegal use of administrative resources was also reported by OSCE observers and the local media during the previous Armenian elections. Sarkisian’s election challengers and Raffi Hovannisian in particular say that the practice is continuing unabated. They claim that the authorities have started collecting passport data of public workers pledging to vote for Sarkisian under government pressure.
The OSCE report notes that the Armenian presidential race, marked by the non-participation of several major opposition groups, has been “low-key” and lacked “an animated debate” so far. It also praises the Central Election Commission for continuing to work “in an open and transparent manner.”