The OSCE/ODIHR (from now on, OSCE) released their third interim report last week. This report has come after protests at the OSCE building and numerous meetings with political elites. While I don’t think OSCE is willing to say “our bad,” I think they got the hint that many people thought their previous statement was insufficient. In their defense, their previous statement does say some critical things about the government (e.g. “While election day was calm and orderly, it was marked by undue interference in the process, mainly by proxies representing the incumbent, and some serious violations were observed.”). The problem is that the criticism comes after the statement that the election “was generally well-administered and was characterized by a respect for fundamental freedoms.” Many people stopped reading—either in support or in anger—after that line.
Below are some of the more impactful statements by the OSCE. As the OSCE is forced to be neutral, their language is consistently mild and the reader is encouraged to read between the lines.
The Power of Statistics
One area in the interim report where the OSCE’s forced neutrality is irrelevant is in their review of the statistics of the voting. The fact is that you can’t argue with a well-conducted statistical analysis that demonstrates the improbabability of the results without electoral manipulation. As one of my colleagues says, combating electoral fraud with statistics is great because you “literally out-smart them.”
The relevant section from the report:
An OSCE/ODIHR EOM analysis of final results as published by the CEC shows a close correlation between the voter turnout and the number of votes for the incumbent, with PECs with above average turnout also having a higher share of votes for Mr. Sargsyan. Out of the 1,988 polling stations, 1,746 have 300 or more registered voters. In 144 of those, voter turnout exceeded 80 per cent, which seems implausibly high; the incumbent received above 80 per cent of the votes cast in 115 of these stations. 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. Among 249 stations where turnout was below 50 per cent, Mr. Sargsyan received more than 50 per cent in 40, and Mr. Hovannisyan received more than 50 per cent in 155. The tendency of higher results for the incumbent observed at the majority of stations with high turnout raises concerns regarding the confidence over the integrity of the electoral process.
According to the final results as published by the CEC, there were 50,976 invalid ballots (3.4 percent of all votes cast), which varied widely, from 7.9 per cent in TEC 8 and 7.3 per cent in TEC 7 to 1.5 per cent in TECs 18, 20 and 24. The number of ballots declared invalid in some PECs raises concern; for example, in PECs 7/9, 8/8, 12/22, 19/1, 19/5, 19/21, 28/26 and 34/29 the number of invalid ballots exceeded 20 per cent of all ballots cast.
Keep the media fair, even after the election
Another nice point that OSCE mentions is the deficiency in some of the media in their neutrality. While the pre-election coverage was viewed as equal, the after election coverage was less so. OSCE specifically calls out “H1, Shant and Armenia TV” for “often present[ing] only general and at times superficial coverage of the protests, while repeatedly stating that the rallies were not authorized, and airing a statement by the police to this extent.” They also criticized media channels for glossing over the negative parts of their previous reports. They praised the “more balanced reporting” of Yerkir Media, Kentron TV, and Radio Azatutyun.
You can’t have official complaints if no one is allowed to submit them.
Another key point the OSCE noted is how of the over 88 complaints the CEC received, the vast majority were dismissed on procedural grounds. Requests to invalidate the results at 73 polling stations were dismissed for missing the legal deadline. Complaints submitted by observers—domestic and international—are automatically dismissed as they have no right to vote and thus no right to challenge any voting violations. Complaints from candidate proxies were also dismissed if they were not at the polling station. And, the kicker is that the OSCE can’t even make firm conclusions as “[t]he information on complaints provided by the CEC to the EOM was at times conflicting and incomplete.”
While this new report does support Hovannisian and the protestors, its impact might be minimal. Most international entities took the OSCE’s preliminary findings and used them as the basis for congratulating Sargsyan. US President Obama is just the latest to do so. With this more nuanced report, no world leader will retract their statement and no leader will not send a statement simply because of this interim report.