By Karine Kalantarian and Shakeh AvoyanCampaign aides to presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian accused Armenian authorities on Tuesday of continuing to purge various-level electoral commissions of opposition members ahead of Wednesday’s presidential run-off. The Central Election Commission (CEC) said it is looking into the allegations.
“The authorities are now trying to drive election officials with a more or less opposition stance out of the commissions in blatant violation of the law,” Hrayr Tovmasian, a lawyer at Demirchian’s campaign headquarters, told RFE/RL.
Tovmasian said the pro-government majorities at scores of election commission are voting to oust their opposition-linked colleagues on “unfounded” charges of absenteeism. “The authorities are thus jeopardizing the transparency and fairness of the elections,” he claimed.
“This is really the case,” said Pavel Yedigarian, a CEC member affiliated with the opposition National Democratic Union (AZhM) party which now supports Demirchian. “In some places our members are illegally expelled from the commissions.”
Speaking to RFE/RL on Monday, AZhM leaders alleged that the authorities are bribing and bullying their representatives in an effort to facilitate fraud. The AZhM is the only pro-Demirchian party which holds a seat in all nine-member electoral commissions overwhelmingly controlled by President Robert Kocharian and his allied parties.
According to Tovmasian, 12 oppositionist commissioners who worked at polling stations in Yerevan’s Malatia-Sebastia district have been barred from attending meetings of the local election bodies. He said the Demirchian campaign is trying to offset its being underrepresented in the commissions by enlisting more proxies who could follow the voting and counting processes.
“We now have proxies in all 1,865 electoral precincts,” Tovmasian said. “However, the continuing alarming reports allow us to say that there will be obstacles to their work.”
The pro-Kocharian deputy chairman of the CEC, Hamlet Abrahamian, confirmed that members of the lower-level commissions are resigning or being removed “en masse.” But he would not comment on possible reasons for the changes, saying only that the CEC will try to ensure that all commission seats are filled before the opening of polls on Wednesday morning.
CEC chairman Artak Sahradian, meanwhile, assured Western election observers that the authorities will do their best to address their concerns and ensure a clean vote. “We do take into account the observers’ opinion, and the existing shortcomings will be eliminated in the second round,” he said.
Sahradian spoke to reporters after holding separate meetings with Lord Russell Johnston and Peter Eicher, the heads of a joint monitoring mission from the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The mission had concluded that the first round of the election “fell short of international standards in several key respects.”
Russell Johnston said the authorities should prevent a repeat of reported ballot box stuffing and flaws in the counting process that marred the February 19 vote. He also deplored the recent arrests of opposition activists, saying that demonstrations staged by the Demirchian campaign were peaceful.
Eicher, for his part, declined to divulge any details of his meeting with the CEC chief. “We don’t agree on everything, but we have agreed on some issues,” he said without elaborating.
In an interview with RFE/RL on Monday, Eicher said the OSCE observers have found some “significant” discrepancies of the official results of the first round and are now seeking full explanations from the CEC.