By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The National Democratic Institute (NDI), a private U.S. group promoting democracy worldwide, added its voice on Tuesday to international criticism of the Armenian authorities’ handling of Sunday’s parliamentary elections and constitutional referendum.
The NDI, which has run various civic programs in Armenia since 1995, deployed a multinational team of 30 observers to monitor the voting and counting processes in polling stations across the country. Their opinion is similar to the findings of the OSCE and Council of Europe observers who have said that the polls were not democratic.
“Despite improvements in certain areas of the electoral process over the last two months, Armenia’s May 25 elections and referendum failed to cross the threshold for democratic elections,” the NDI team said in a preliminary report. “There is an atmosphere of cynicism, frustration and anxiety surrounding Armenia’s electoral processes, evidenced by low voter turnout, lack of confidence in the ability of election authorities to act impartially and the absence of processes to effectively redress electoral disputes.”
The NDI said its observers witnessed instances of vote buying, intimidation of candidates and their proxies, forced voting for the governing Republican Party by army conscripts as well as deliberate miscounting of ballots.
“The voting and counting processes were widely diverse,” the report reads. “Many polling stations observed ran relatively well; however, in other polling stations there was a significant number of cases of fraud or attempted fraud.”
The NDI at the same time shared the OSCE-led mission’s conclusion that Sunday’s vote, however flawed, was more democratic than the recent presidential election marred by allegations of vote rigging in favor of incumbent President Robert Kocharian. “Voting proceeded with fewer incidents than in past elections,” its report says.
The OSCE and Council of Europe criticism of the elections centered on the vote count. Observers from the two organizations said they found “significant violations” in the counting of ballots in more than 30 percent of polling stations observed.
The Armenian opposition went father, accusing the authorities of rigging the ballot. The Central Election Commission and the Republicans, however, insist that it was largely free and fair.