Tag Archives: ODIHR

Election Devolution

I got to say that while I expected something, I didn’t expect this. On Sunday, Raffi Hovannisian declared a hunger strike. This will be his second hunger strike; his first was in March 2011. He also built up the rhetoric saying that Sargsyan’s swearing in will occur in Freedom square “over [his] dead body.” In response, Sargsyan is simply moving the swearing in ceremony. Sadly, I believe Raffi Hovannisian has jumped the shark.

For weeks, Raffi has been hammering that this is the people’s victory and the people’s revolution. He’s been as effective as a leader can be to say that he is not the one that matters in the movement. He’s been improving as a speech giver and has seemed more and more presidential. While many have been pressuring him to do something, I don’t think anyone suggested another hunger strike. We already had a hunger strike this election and it didn’t produce the hoped for results. Instead, this action will refocus the movement on Raffi and his health status rather than on public demonstrations and demands.

The Minister of Justice decided to “take a vacation” to defend the President in the Constitutional Court. You would think that the Republican Party would have their own legal team that wouldn’t require the sitting (and supposedly neutral) Minister of Justice to take a vacation from his real job to defend the President.

Also, here is one more story of voter fraud from an OSCE/ODIHR observer. What makes this story different? The observer is a former Minister of Foreign Affairs and a Minister of Justice of Ireland. A special prosecutor called Narine Esmaeili, Birthright Armenia volunteer, election observer and victim of electoral abuse, a liar and her story as false. I wonder if a special prosecutor will do the same to the Irish former Minister?

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OSCE Releases their Latest Report: the Government doesn’t look nearly as Good

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.”

Overall Impact

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.

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Elections! Elections! Read all about it!

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.

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Hetq Article on Developing Public Trust in the Government

As I mentioned in the Pause in the Posting post, I have been working on a response to the Urgent Call for electoral reforms. I finished the response and it’s been published in Hetq. I wrote the response because I felt the NGOs critique of the electoral system was too narrow and focused on the wrong issue. Yes there are many election irregularities, but those irregularities aren’t large enough to change the election results. Yet, public trust in the government is around 12-13%. I argue that the public doesn’t trust the government because it doesn’t trust the institutions of the government. Make the institutions trustworthy, especially vis-a-vis elections, and people will trust the government.

Check out the article here.

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Elections: Final Statement

This post is the conclusion of this, this, and this post.

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.

Voting stamp

The stamp one gets in their passport to stop one from voting again.

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