Today is the last day for arguments at the Constitutional Court regarding election violations. Unfortunately, it’s also the day the Constitutional Court must give its verdict. Heritage and Andreas Ghukasyan have called for recounts in 576 suspect polling stations and for more witnesses, including President Serzh Sargsyan. The Court has to categorically reject these valid claims because of Armenia’s Constitution.
Armenia’s Constitution states that (in Article 51):
“If the Constitutional Court admits a case on the results of presidential elections, it must render a decision within ten days following the receipt of the application….”
Today is the 10th day, thus the Court is extremely limited in its abilities to collect more information. Thus, it can only rely on evidence that has been presented to it. Considering that Raffi and Andreas didn’t have the support of state institutions in gathering evidence, they’re at a severe disadvantage to disprove the legitimacy of the CEC’s official results.
First a link roundup, then discussion about what’s going on.
- The Atlantic has a good overview for those joining us late.
- Here is a phenomenal photo collection of the first rally in Freedom Square. It’s actually really interesting how it seems like a majority of the participants are older. The young certainly are present as well, but they are not the majority. When I asked a local friend of mine what why that was the case she said that many of her friends were told before the election that if they voted for Raffi, they’d be fired. They still voted for Raffi, trusting in the secrecy of the vote, but cannot show their support publically. Apparently those in some position of power where Raffi won are facing similar pressure.
- One Heritage representative says the best deal possible would be for Heritage to join a new coalition government. So far it seems like Raffi is rejecting any offers to join with the government.
- The city government of Yerevan said that rallies after the 22nd would be illegal as the local government has refused to authorize rallies between the 23rd and 25th. The logic is that they require a week notice, which is obviously impossible for these post-election rallies and could not have been given for the previous rallies. Hovannisian responded by holding very successful rallies in Gyumri and Vanadzor and in unplanned Aparan.
- Hovannisian also held an unauthorized rally today in Yerevan, with an estimated 4,000 supporters. Thankfully Hovannis ian kept it short and the police did not interfere too much. The police made an official statement about the illegality of the rally, including cutting off the electricity to the speakers. They then returned power and Hovannisian was able to finish his speech. For the record, if the police did forcibly disperse the crowd, the government would likely be found in violation of the right to freedom of assemblies by the European Court of Human Rights, but this view is debatable. The fact that the rally was unathortized doesn’t make it ipso facto illegal.
- Protests also occurred in New York and LA.
- The Ombudsman’s Office issued a press release (in Armenian) about the few hundred calls they received on the election. One of main issues people reported was bribes.
- An anti-OSCE protest occurred on the 22nd. The protestors were angry over OSCE’s glossing over of election fraud and thus implicitly legitimizing the authorities.
- A report I missed from earlier, Yerevan Press Club said that the media was neutral in its coverage of the campaigns. Unfortunately, that same media has chosen to ignore a number of the significant protestor events, creating an information vacuum for the public.
Overall, Raffi has been promoting peaceful resistance and activism. He’s asking students to walk out of class tomorrow at 11am to join in yet another rally. So far this strategy may have been the reason that the government hasn’t done much to limit his activity. Unlike Levon Ter-Petrossian’s fiery anti-government speeches in 2008, Raffi is not calling for violence. (For another comparison of now to 2008, here is a nice blog post.) The government is allegedly still trying to impede his actions (e.g. they closed the road to Yerevan from Gyumri today, allegedly to limit people from joining the protest), but any overt action on their end would lack even the preface of legitimacy like they had in 2008. While Andreas Ghoukasyan has called for civil disobedience, Hovannisian continues to reiterate that this was a win for the freedom of the people of Armenia and to remain peaceful. How Hovannisian wants to push for that freedom still remains to be seen.
Election season is in full swing. The Central Election Commission (CEC) has certified eight candidates for the February election; the other seven did not pay the required eight million dram ($20,000) fee to appear on the ballot. David Hakobyan, Chairman of the Marxist Party of Armenia criticizes the high fee as a means for the authorities to control the competition and wants a fee proportional to the candidate’s wealth. For the record, Armenia’s average annual salary is 1.45 million dram, making the registration fee comparable to $275,000 in America. The eight that were willing to pay the eight million dram are:
- Incumbent Serzh Sargsyan (Republican Party)
- Raffi Hovannisian (Heritage Party)
- Hrant Bagratyan (Freedom Party)
- Paruyr Hayrikyan (National Self-Determination Union)
- Andreas Ghoukasyan (Director of Radio Hay)
- Aram Haroutyunyan (National Consensus Party)
- Vardan Sedrakyan (architect or “epic studies specialist”)
The official campaign begins on the 21st, and there is a lot of work to do. The CEC still needs to decide whether the portraits of Sargsyan that are up in sites that will be used as voting sites should come down (the answer is yes as it gives unfair preference to a certain candidate, the candidate in power, and may bias the electorate). Some Republicans openly admit that Sargsyan’s victory is a foregone conclusion but quickly add that that the election still is competitive.
The government has received OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) election monitoring team. The OSCE/ODIHR team is the primary international election observing institution. I wrote about the 2012 parliamentary election, including OSCE/ODIHR’s report, in this post. Here is an outline of the current mission and the list of the core team members.
As I stated earlier, this election is likely to be the cleanest ever as Sargsyan has no real opposition. The question is whether the opposition will be able to embarrass Sargsyan by either 1) having a low voter 2) Hovannisian obtaining a large minority of votes, or 3) communicate the lack of competition to international actors. Some of these goals are mutually exclusive, so the opposition will need to be tactful if they want to make it appear that Sargsyan doesn’t have a mandate from the electorate.