By Ruben Meloyan
The chairman of Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC), Garegin Azarian, insisted on Wednesday that it is doing a good job of ensuring a level playing field and making other preparations for next month’s parliamentary elections.
Azarian said that the CEC, dominated by President Robert Kocharian’s political allies, has so far received only ten formal complaints from political parties and individual candidates vying for the 131 seats in the National Assembly.
“Although it’s a bit difficult for me to evaluate our work, I would call it slightly more than satisfactory,” he told a news conference. “I have a stricter approach than you. But ten complaints are OK.”
Opposition leaders are far more critical of the CEC’s and other government bodies’ handling of the election campaign. In particular, some of them claim to have found glaring inaccuracies in the lists of the country’s 2.3 million eligible voters.
But Azarian dismissed the complaints, saying that responsibility for drawing up the voter registry was recently transferred from the CEC to the Armenian police. He also said that voter lists have already been posted on the police website and at nearly 2,000 polling stations across Armenia, arguing that there is sufficient time to examine and correct them before the May 12 vote.
“We have never had such transparent voter lists before,” said the former Justice Ministry official. “So let us check them and report all inaccuracies to the police.”
Still, Azarian admitted that the registry may still contain the names of dead people, something which has been a major source of electoral fraud. “If anybody says that there is a voter registry in the world that does not include a single dead person I will immediately resign,” he said.
The voter registration system has been computerized with the help of the U.S. government. Last week the U.S. embassy in Yerevan donated 45 computers to an Armenian police division in charge of the registry.
Azarian was also asked about media reports that government officials and representatives of pro-establishment parties are illegally collecting citizens’ passport numbers with the aim of stealing their votes. He said the CEC has asked the police and prosecutors to investigate those reports. They refused to launch criminal inquiries, citing a lack of factual evidence, he added.
Some opposition parties have also complained that unlike the main pro-Kocharian parties, they are unable to place their campaign billboards in Yerevan and other parts of the country. Azarian said they should redirect their complaints to local governments and private advertising firms.
In a related development, the CEC on Wednesday took delivery of 5,000 new ballot boxes that will be used during the upcoming elections. The transparent boxes were purchased from Syria.
(Photolur photo: Garegin Azarian.)