The United States and the European Union expressed concern on Wednesday at the alleged vote buying and “systematic use” of government resources in Armenia’s ongoing parliamentary election campaign.
“We are aware of and concerned by allegations of voter intimidation, attempts to buy votes, and the systemic use of administrative resources to aid certain competing parties,” the U.S. Embassy and the EU Delegation in Yerevan said in a joint statement.
“We continue to urge all parties engaged in the election to abide by the letter and spirit of Armenia’s electoral law, and call upon relevant law enforcement authorities and electoral institutions to implement existing laws in an unbiased and credible manner,” they added.
Although the statement did not name any party or bloc participating in the April 2 elections, it seemed primarily addressed to the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). The HHK has been facing opposition and media allegations that it is abusing its government levers in an effort to retain control over Armenia’s parliament.
The party headed by President Serzh Sarkisian as well as businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s electoral alliance have also been accused of handing out vote bribes. They both deny any wrongdoing.
The U.S. and EU issued the extraordinary warning just days after an Armenian civic organization claimed to have collected evidence that public school principals across Armenia are illegally pressurizing their staffs and students’ parents to vote for the HHK.
The Union of Informed Citizens (UIC) revealed on Friday that its activists posing as HHK representatives telephoned the directors of 136 schools and kindergartens. It said 114 of them admitted drawing up lists of children’s parents as well as schoolteachers and kindergarten staff who pledged support for the HHK in the April 2 polls.
The UIC said the lists were submitted to local government bodies or HHK campaign offices. It also publicized audio of those phone conversations.
Armenia - Children wave the ruling Republican Party's flags at an election campaign rally in Aragatsotn province, 20Mar2017.
Armenian opposition forces portrayed the revelations as further proof of their allegations of HHK foul play in the parliamentary race. Some of them demanded that the Central Election Commission (CEC) seek a court ruling that would disqualify the ruling party from the race.
The CEC rejected one of those appeals on Tuesday. “As far as the Electoral Code is concerned, the drawing up of those lists alone does not constitute pre-election propaganda,” said Tigran Mukuchian, the commission chairman.
The HHK admitted on Friday that many school principals are campaigning for its election victory. But it claimed that they are doing so “beyond their work hours and work duties.” An HHK statement also denounced the phone calls as a “dishonest” provocation.
Earlier this year the EU and the U.S. allocated around $10 million in funding for the purchase of special electronic equipment designed to prevent multiple voting in the upcoming Armenian elections. That includes voter identification devices and web cameras that will be installed in the vast majority of polling stations. The cameras will broadcast voting and ballot counting there online on polling day.
Armenia - Election officials in Yerevan test voter authentication devices that will be used in parliamentary elections, 25Mar2017.
As part of a landmark deal with the parliamentary opposition reached last fall, the Armenian authorities also agreed to publicize signed voter lists right after the elections.
“We firmly believe that this effort will diminish the likelihood of voter fraud on Election Day and will limit tampering with the electoral process inside polling stations,” the U.S. and EU said of their assistance.
But they also cautioned: “We note that our ultimate assessment of the conduct of the April 2 election will not be limited to observing electoral procedures on Election Day, itself.”