The Armenian authorities may fail to ensure live online broadcasts of voting and ballot counting in the upcoming parliamentary elections due to financial reasons, a senior government official said on Wednesday.
The authorities agreed to install web cameras in all of Armenia’s 2,000 polling stations as part of a September 2016 agreement with the opposition aimed at preventing serious fraud in the elections slated for April 2. The landmark deal also called for an electronic verification of voters’ identity and post-election publication of signed voter lists.
The Armenian parliament passed a set of corresponding anti-fraud amendments to the Electoral Code in October. They are primarily designed to prevent multiple voting by government loyalists.
In line with that deal, a special commission comprising government and opposition representatives recently called a tender for a company that would supply the cameras and organize the unprecedented broadcasts on election day.
Davit Harutiunian, the chief of the government staff, said the commission has received only one bid. “The proposal made by that single bidder involves a much higher price than we can afford now,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“The process is being handled by that commission, and let’s wait and see what its conclusions will be,” added Harutiunian. He did not exclude that the web cameras will not be installed after all.
The official, who helped to negotiate the September deal with three opposition parties, also stressed: “The issue of cameras was never enshrined in the Electoral Code as a mandatory requirement. It’s an optional, additional provision contingent on the price to be offered by companies ready to implement it.”
Avetis Avagian, an opposition member of the commission, said he and his colleagues will meet with the private bidder and discuss the possibility of lowering its asking price. “We will try to reach a common denominator,” he said. “Maybe we should ease the requirements a little and see if there are possibilities for cost saving.”
Avagian, who represents the Armenian National Congress (HAK), also suggested that the Armenian government should consider exempting the broadcasting equipment from import duties.
For her part, Naira Zohrabian, the chairwoman of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), accused the government of obstructing the planned broadcasts in a bid to “sabotage one of the important mechanisms for preventing fraud.”
“The authorities are perfectly aware that the broadcasts could seriously deter various government gangs that are used to raiding polling stations, stirring up trouble there and trying to illegally meddle in the electoral process,” she claimed.
According to Zohrabian, the camera supplier demanded about $4 million in funding its bid. The government has only about half of that sum at its disposal, she said.
Harutiunian also made clear that the authorities will purchase and install electronic machines for voter identification in any case.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) said last week that it will hire 4,000 computer-savvy people to operate such equipment. The CEC chairman, Tigran Mukuchian, insisted that it has sufficient time to organize the selection process.
The European Union and the United States have promised millions of dollars in funding for the purchase of the equipment.