Raising more questions about the freedom and fairness of Armenia’s presidential election, Western election observers said on Friday that vote recounts in polling stations across the country were not conducted properly and exposed errors in official vote results.
In their first post-election interim report, the observers representing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also noted “anomalies” in the results from other electoral precincts. They said the reported problems will affect the OSCE mission’s final assessment of the Armenian authorities’ conduct of the February 19 vote. It is due to be made public by May.
In their preliminary assessment made public on February 20, the more than 300 monitors concluded that the election was administered “mostly in accordance” with democratic standards. But they also reported serious irregularities during the counting of ballots in 16 percent of the polling stations visited by them on election day.
More such irregularities were exposed during recounts subsequently conducted in 153 of Armenia’s 1,922 precincts. OSCE observers were present at many of those recounts.
“The majority of recounts observed showed discrepancies and mistakes in the original count, some of which were significant and raise questions over the political impartiality of PECs (precinct election commissions) and TECs (district election commissions),” read their report. It also cited two Yerevan precincts where the recounts were disrupted by government loyalists.
One of those precincts was stormed by a group of men who “forced TEC members and other authorized persons including candidate proxies, journalists, and an OSCE/ODIHR observer to leave the TEC premises, while police officers passively stood by.” In the other Yerevan precinct, the report said, an unknown man stole an envelope containing valid ballots marked in favor of opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian.
The observers also pointed to “implausibly high turnout” reported by election commissions in Yerevan and other parts of the country. In virtually all of those cases Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian got more than 90 percent of the vote, compared with his national total of 52.8 percent reported by the Central Election Commission (CEC).
The OSCE report singled out four villages in the Goris area in southeastern Armenia where Sarkisian got over 99 per cent of the vote, with a turnout of 97 to 99.5 per cent. “Even taking into account that Serzh Sarkisian has strong familial links to the Goris area results from the four PECs are striking,” it said.
The report also criticized the CEC for effectively ignoring complaints received from Ter-Petrosian and other candidates after polling day. “In the post election period, the CEC received several complaints; its handling of these did not provide complainants with an effective remedy and raises concern about its commitment to ensure the protection of citizens’ electoral rights,” it said.