The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan on Thursday criticized a weekend by-election to Armenia’s parliament and urged the authorities to prosecute those responsible for “numerous irregularities” witnessed by American and local observers. (UPDATED)
The embassy deployed the only international observer mission for the January 10 vote that was held in a central Yerevan constituency and controversially won by a pro-government candidate, Aram Simonian.
“Embassy observers found numerous irregularities, including intimidation of voters, verbal and physical threats directed at journalists and observers, and in some cases the presence of uncredentialled, non-voting individuals sympathetic to the National Unity Party candidate, who appeared to be managing the electoral process in lieu of the authorized members of the local electoral commissions,” the embassy spokesman, Thomas Mittnacht, said in response to a question from RFE/RL.
“The Embassy urges Armenian authorities to investigate all reported violations and allegations of violence, and to swiftly identify and prosecute those responsible,” Mittnacht said. “We are pleased to see that requested recounts are underway in some precincts, and that the authorities have invalidated the results in those precincts where the integrity of the voting was compromised.”
A district commission that managed the poll annulled official results in two precincts on Thursday. But that did not prevent it from formally declaring Simonian election winner. The decision was promptly endorsed by the Central Election Commission (CEC). The CEC said evidence of serious fraud there will be submitted to the Office of the Prosecutor-General.
The law-enforcement agency said late Wednesday that it has instructed the Armenian police to investigate various irregularities reported in those and other precincts. It said the police have already opened a criminal case in connection with the beating of opposition leader Petros Makeyan and his two companions outside a polling station.
All three men required hospitalization. They claimed to have been assaulted by government loyalists while trying to stop vote rigging. The police claimed on Sunday that it is the oppositionists who provoked the incident by beating up a Simonian proxy. It is thus not clear yet who will be prosecuted for the violence.
U.S. monitors were similarly critical of the Armenian government’s conduct of last May’s municipal elections in Yerevan. The criticism was one of the reasons why the U.S. government cut $67 million in additional economic assistance promised to Yerevan.
The Yerevan district commission certified Simonian’s hotly disputed victory one day before a legal deadline for the submission of written complaints from election candidates. “We are summing up things based on the facts which we have at the moment,” the commission chairwoman, Silva Markosian, told RFE/RL when asked to explain the apparent haste.
The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), whose imprisoned candidate Nikol Pashinian was Simonian’s main rival, formally lodged a complaint and demanded a re-run of the vote shortly afterwards. The commission refused to consider it on the grounds that it has already formalized the election outcome.
HAK representatives condemned the refusal as illegal and protested to the CEC. “They acted hastily because they realized that it will be very difficult to disprove our facts,” one of them, Patvakan Hovakimian, told RFE/RL. He said the HAK will appeal to the Constitutional Court if the CEC refuses to scrap the vote altogether.