Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe gave on Thursday a mixed assessment of Armenia’s recent presidential election, reiterating that it was “generally well-administered” but questioning its official results that gave victory to President Serzh Sarkisian.
In their final report, the observers stood by their earlier preliminary conclusion that the February 18 vote was “characterized by a respect for fundamental freedoms” translating into free campaigning and a largely impartial coverage of the presidential candidates by the broadcast media.
The report says the 300 or so Western monitors mostly deployed by the OSCE witnessed no serious irregularities in the vast majority of 970 polling stations visited by them on election day. It says the vote counts observed by them were likewise mostly assessed positively.
The observers at the same time again accused the Sarkisian campaign of abusing its administrative resources during the election campaign. “These included a high number of state and local officials campaigning, which blurred the line between state and political party as well as between the performance of official and campaign duties,” reads their report.
More importantly, the OSCE mission, which formed the core of the broader international vote-monitoring team in Armenia, cast doubt on the credibility of the official results in hundreds of electoral precincts. They pointed to a “tendency of considerably better results for the incumbent in the majority of stations with above-average turnout.”
“This indicates possible serious problems with voting and counting and raises concerns about the integrity of the electoral process,” they said.
Citing the final results released by the Central Election Commission (CEC), the OSCE report notes that more than 80 percent of eligible voters ostensibly cast ballots in 144 of Armenia’s nearly 2,000 polling stations. Such a high turnout, it says, “seems implausibly high.” Sarkisian got over 80 percent of the vote in 115 of those precincts, according to the CEC.
“In 198 out of the 303 stations where turnout was between 70 and 80 per cent, the incumbent received more than 70 per cent of the votes,” read the OSCE report. “Among 249 stations where turnout was below 50 per cent, Mr. Sarkisian received more than 50 per cent in 40, and [the main opposition candidate Raffi] Hovannisian received more than 50 per cent in 155.”
The report does not say whether the official results in the precincts with very high turnout could have seriously affected the nationwide vote tally. According to the CEC, Sarkisian won the February 18 ballot outright with 58.6 percent of the vote, followed by Hovannisian with 36.7 percent.
The OSCE mission first questioned the CEC figures in an interim post-election report released on March 2. The Hovannisian campaign portrayed it as further proof of blatant vote rigging. The opposition leader considers himself the rightful winner of the vote.
Both the CEC and the Sarkisian campaign dismissed the fraud allegations. They argued, among other things, that the European observers gave a mostly positive assessment of the election conduct in their preliminary findings released on February 19.
The United States and the European Union have referred to those initial findings in their largely positive reactions to the conduct of the presidential ballot. U.S. President Barack Obama and EU leaders effectively recognized the legitimacy of Sarkisian’s disputed reelection with congratulatory messages sent to the Armenian leader.