This is the final post on the May 6 National Assembly Elections. The net result is that the predicted storm of fury, criticism and calls for a do-over never came. Don’t get me wrong, the opposition parties still raise the issue of election rigging, but there haven’t been protests in the streets like after the 2008 presidential election. The people have accepted the results for better or for worse.
There is no doubt in my mind that this election is the best election Armenia has had in terms of legality and legitimacy. The fact that this more legitimate election changed very little in the National Assembly sticks a feather in the Republican’s cap: they can win through rampant vote stuffing and thuggery as well as through the less awful gift giving and vote buying.
My viewpoint above is not universal. There are some international groups that think that “voters showed even less confidence in the election process [than in previous elections]” like the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly. Thankfully, I do have some heavy weights on my side including the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Armenia.
Today, the Human Rights Ombudsman releases his report on the elections. The one sentence summary is that the elections were pretty good. There were hundreds of complaints of violations but many of the complaints were minor (e.g. the ballot boxes were not at least 1 meter apart from each other), especially compared to the last election.
The biggest concern that’s highlighted in the report is that while the Armenian people were willing to call in cases of violations, the police were simply not willing to investigate the cases. In complaint after complaint, the police say that they investigated and were not able to verify the complaint and thus dismissed it. Supposedly, the police interview all witnesses before determining there is a lack of evidence. However, my friend and Birthright Armenia alum Greg Bilazarian not only reported possible fraud, but recorded it and published it through the well known and respected CivilNet. He contacted the police at 6:45pm; no one came even though the election was still ongoing. Eventually he got a letter from the police basically saying “nobody saw anything.” Somehow, the police were able to come to this investigatory conclusion even though they never even attempted to interview Greg, the main witness to the fraud!
Undoubtedly, there are also concerns listed about the Central Election Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office, but possible failings of these institutes are masked by the failings of the police. The failing of the police to properly investigate the complaints, whether from ineptitude or political corruption, stunts whatever faith the people can have in the police. The few cases where the police themselves pressure complainants to drop their complaint doesn’t help (see pages 14-15 of the report). This lack of faith has massive negative ripple effects throughout society, especially as the police are being given new responsibilities to deal with new challenges (e.g. the domestic violence law).
Addendum: It turns out the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights released their report on the same day. It’s available here. Very briefly, they comment on but avoid discussing the irregularities and instead provide technical advise for the next election.
Addendum 2: I want to be clear that there were still huge amounts of corruption occurring during the election, predominantly in the form of vote buying. My above analysis isn’t about making a holistic evaluation as to whether the election truly represents the will of the people, but whether the election procedure was followed well. Both election reports focus on the technicals of the election (the OSCE on the direct functioning of the election, the Ombudsman’s on the number, type and institutional responses to the individual complaints received), and I limit my analysis to that sphere.