By Emil DanielyanThe American head of election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reiterated Saturday their strong criticism of the Armenian presidential run-off, dismissing government complaints that they based it on irregularities reported from a small percentage of polling stations.
Peter Eicher also chided Armenia’s Central Election Commission for delaying the release of a detailed breakdown of vote results that showed incumbent Robert Kocharian winning reelection with 67.5 percent of the vote.
Kocharian’s campaign manager, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, on Friday deplored the OSCE-led mission’s conclusion that the election was not democratic due to “serious irregularities in many polling stations.” He argued that the 200 or so international observers found no irregularities in 87 percent of about 800 polling stations visited on election day.
“I would not agree with that. Our conclusions were based on results that we had from many places,” Eicher told RFE/RL an interview. He argued that “significant problems” registered in the remaining 13 percent of polling stations is “quite a high figure for an election.”
“Especially because most of the observers were at a polling station for half an hour or an hour and they still saw significant problems,” Eicher added. “This 87 percent refers to the voting day. The figures were worse for the counting process.”
In their preliminary report issued after Wednesday’s run-off, the international observers singled out “widespread” ballot box stuffing as the most common form of fraud in the Armenian election. They said they witnessed it in about 60 precincts during the voting and counting processes.
Eicher argued the OSCE observers findings were far more negative than those of a Russian-led monitoring team from the Commonwealth of Independent States because the latter had only 26 members and applied less rigorous standards for democratic elections. “They were assessing it, as I understand, against the CIS standards. We were assessing against the Council of Europe and OSCE standards,” he said.
The overwhelming majority of the 12 CIS countries are not considered democracies in the West despite being members of the OSCE. Only one of them, Moldova, had a regime change through elections in recent years. The ex-Soviet states such as Belarus and Turkmenistan, governed by strongman leaders, have been effectively ostracized by the OSCE.
However, defense chief Sarkisian claimed that the CIS observers came to a much more positive conclusion because they know Armenian “mentality and reality” better than the Westerners do.
“I can’t comment on who knows Armenian mentality better than who else, but I can say that Armenia has decided to accept the OSCE and Council of Europe standards,” Eicher replied. “We have to hold it to the same standards as every other country.”
Asked to comment on Sarkisian’s claims that some OSCE observers made unlawful demands to Armenian election officials, he replied: “Nobody has ever complained to me about our observers.”
Eicher further expressed concern that the CEC has not yet released a complete precinct-by-precinct breakdown of election results, which is seen by the OSCE as a major safeguard against possible number fixing.
“I hoped that they would do that immediately after the polling day,” he said. “You saw that they did announce the total results. So clearly, the statistics must exist. I just don’t understand why they are not releasing them to the public for all these days.”
The OSCE team has closely examined the detailed statistics released by the election body after the February 19 first round of voting and found “significant discrepancies and implausible results” in them. In one such example, the observers noted that in 124 polling stations across Armenia more ballots were cast than actually issued to voters. In six other places, they said, results “had been shifted from one candidate to another between the publication of the preliminary and final results.”
Eicher had complained earlier that the CEC did not give him a credible explanation for what the OSCE report described as “unacceptably high levels of erroneous data.”
The commission’s chief lawyer, meanwhile, said on Saturday that Armenia’s election law does not require the CEC to publish a detailed vote tally. The official, Nune Hovannisian, said the final vote results will not be publicized before next Tuesday.