The Armenian police on Monday offered to cooperate with the political parities contesting the upcoming mayoral elections in Yerevan in trying to prevent possible irregularities and punishing their perpetrators.
In a written statement, the police said they have set up a special “coordinating group” tasked with rapidly reacting to fraud allegations from both election contenders and individual voters. No such reports will go unheeded, it said.
The statement followed a weekend meeting of senior law-enforcement officials that was chaired by Vladimir Gasparian, the chief of the national police. They discussed police efforts to assist in the proper conduct of the May 5 elections of Yerevan’s new municipal council that will choose a new city mayor.
“We have been tasked with ensuring the normal course of the elections and we must do that impeccably,” Gasparian said at the meeting. In particular, he instructed police units to stop “crime figures and other elements” from gathering outside polling stations on election day.
The illegal practice has been commonplace during many elections held Armenia. Opposition forces have long portrayed groups of men standing outside polling stations as government loyalists pressuring or bullying voters to back pro-government candidates.
Gasparian also angrily denied opposition allegations that the police have started registering pro-government residents of various Armenian regions in Yerevan so that they vote for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). “Attempts to discredit us have already begun,” he said.
Opposition representatives were quick to dismiss the police pledges to combat vote rigging and manipulation attempts. Stepan Safarian of the opposition Barev Yerevan bloc led by Raffi Hovannisian claimed that a police crackdown on electoral fraud would thwart an HHK victory in the municipal polls.
“The police chief is simply trying to save his system’s reputation,” Safarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I can understand that on the human plane. But that is not a solution to the situation.”
For his part, Levon Zurabian, the deputy chairman of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), sent a letter to Gasparian accusing the police of failing to act against pro-government thugs that allegedly attacked last week young activists campaigning for the opposition party in two Yerevan districts. Zurabian also denounced the police for manhandling HAK activists that demonstrated outside the Mayor’s Office in the capital on Friday.