All of those polling stations are located in Yerevan’s Malatia-Sebastia district, from which the Armenian opposition, mass media and independent observers reported the largest number of irregularities on election day.
The decision to invalidate the polls held there was made late Wednesday by two district election commissions covering Malatia-Sebastia. The Central Election Commission (CEC) said on Thursday that it sent the ballots, vote protocols and other documents from the precincts to the Office of the Prosecutor-General, asking it to open a criminal case.
Under Armenian law, elections in the three polling stations do not have to be re-run despite the scrapping of their results. The CEC confirmed that ballots cast there will simply be deducted from the overall tally. The development will thus barely affect the CEC’s preliminary results that gave a landslide victory to President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). The Armenian opposition has rejected the outcome as fraudulent.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement agency subordinated to the prosecutors, has already launched criminal proceedings into fraud reported by Armenian media in seven other Malatia-Sebastia polling stations. A member of one of those precinct commissions and another local resident supporting the HHK were arrested by the SIS on Tuesday on charges of stuffing “fake ballots” marked for the ruling party.
Ballots cast in that precinct were recounted at the Office of the Prosecutor-General in the presence of journalists on Wednesday. The precinct vote protocol showed the HHK getting 498 votes there. It emerged during the recount that in fact 454 local residents voted for the HHK.
The SIS also supervised on Thursday recounts in two other Malatia-Sebastia precincts conducted by CEC representatives. In one of them, a sack of cast ballots, supposedly sealed and signed by precinct commission members, was found to have been tampered with.
Malatia-Sebastia has been a major trouble spot in various elections held in Armenia over the past decade. Samvel Aleksanian, one of the country’s wealthiest men holding sway in the area, has been widely linked with voter intimidation, vote buying and other irregularities reported there. Aleksanian is also known as a longtime backer of President Sarkisian and the HHK.
Meanwhile, the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) brushed aside the criminal investigations later on Thursday, saying that the authorities are “covering up” hundreds of election-day violations registered by opposition proxies. In a statement, the HAK said that virtually all district election commissions in Yerevan are refusing to provide copies of precinct-level voting data and other documents to the opposition bloc in violation of the Electoral Code. It also accused the authorities of blocking vote recounts in more polling stations.