Strasbourg, 14 November 2002
Report on the local elections in Armenia (20 October 2002)
Rapporteur: Christopher NEWBURY (United Kingdom, L)
BUREAU OF THE CONGRESS
Document adopted by the Bureau of the Congress on 13 November 2002
At the invitation of the Government of the Republic of Armenia (letter of 13 August 2002 from Mr Hovik ABRAHAMYAN, Minister for the Co-ordination of Territorial Administration and Development of Infrastructures), a delegation of the Congress went to Armenia from 17 to 21 October 2002 to observe the local elections held on 20 October.
2. Composition of the delegation
The list of the Congress delegation approved by the Bureau at its meeting on 9 September 2002 in Luxembourg included the following members:
Mr Christopher NEWBURY – United Kingdom, L (Head of the delegation and Rapporteur)
Mrs Ayse Bahar CEBI – Turkey, L
Mr Calin Catalin CHIRITA – Romania, L
Ms Svitlana KASYANOVA – Ukraine, R
Mr David LLOYD-WILLIAMS – United Kingdom, R
Ms Lea TOLONEN – Finland, L
The delegation was accompanied by Mr Ulrich BOHNER – Deputy Chief Executive of the Congress, Secretariat, Mr Ivan VOLODIN – Congress Secretariat and Ms Natalia VOUTOVA – Council of Europe's representative in Armenia.
3. Programme of the visit
The Council of Europe's Office in the Republic of Armenia arranged the programme of the delegation's visit, as well as hotel accommodation and interpretation. It was assisted by the Association of Communities of the Republic of Armenia. Their work proved to be very efficient, with no problems from the arrival of the observation mission through the deployment of observation teams in the regions until the end of their programmes there.
The Congress delegation wishes to express its gratitude for their excellent support and co-operation to the Council of Europe's representative in Armenia, the Association of Communities of Armenia, and the Armenian delegation to the CLRAE.
The programme included a number of meetings and discussions with representatives of political parties and of other candidates contesting the elections, with the Association of Communities of Armenia, with Central, Territorial, District and Precinct Electoral Commissions, with local and regional administrative officials, domestic and international observers, diplomats of the Council of Europe member States, and OSCE/ODIHR (see Appendix 1). These meetings provided the delegation with first-hand information on the new electoral legislation, on the election campaign and on the general political and social environment in the country.
On the eve of election day, the Congress delegation divided into four teams of two and was deployed into four regions:
Yerevan, Kotayk marz
Mr Christopher NEWBURY
Mr Ulrich BOHNER
Mrs Ayse Bahar CEBI
Mrs Lea TOLONEN
Shirak marz - Gumri
Mr Calin Catalin CHIRITA
Mr David LLOYD-WILLAMS
Synik marz - Kapan
Mrs Svitlana KASYANOVA
Mr Ivan VOLODIN
4. Summary of conclusions
These local elections in Armenia were the first elections to be held since the country's accession to the Council of Europe, and they were conducted against the background of major reforms in the preceding eighteen months by the Armenian authorities. These reforms resulted in the adoption of a number of new laws, notably a new Electoral Code, a Law on Local Self-Government, a Law on Political Parties, a Law on NGOs and a Law on the Civil Service.
Campaigning was rather low-key, and the turnout was also limited, below 50 per cent. A major feature of the elections was the high proportion of independent candidates, with the political parties having a generally low profile.
The elections were also seen as an important test for the improvement of the whole electoral process, in view of the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections due to take place in 2003.
On election day, voting took place in a generally peaceful and orderly manner, with significant problems being reported only in a few places. However, in several places the work of precinct committees was made difficult by power cuts.
Serious concern was raised about the accuracy of the voter lists, though in most places there has been significant progress by comparison with the 1999 elections. This is mainly due to two factors, computerisation and a procedure for names to be checked twice, by community leaders and passport offices.
It appears that better training for members of the precinct committees is needed and that the role of the police on polling day should be clarified in the law. The law should also require publication of the detailed election results at all levels.
5. The legal framework
Apart from the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, the legal provisions governing the elections of local authorities can be found in the Electoral Code of the Republic of Armenia.
The Constitution (Chapter 7), which lays down the general rules for territorial administration and local self-government, stipulates that local government bodies shall be elected for a period of three years (Article 105). While local authorities are granted broad responsibilities in such areas as economic development and urban planning, administration of public property and the management of public utilities, their autonomy is seriously undermined by the power of regional governors (marzpets), who are appointed by the President, to dismiss local government leaders (Article 109 of the Constitution). This power is soon to be revised through amendments to the Constitution, expected to be presented in a referendum in spring 2003, probably simultaneously with the upcoming parliamentary elections. It is also expected that the length of the mandate for community leaders and councillors will be extended to four years.
The Electoral Code is a comprehensive law covering the presidential, parliamentary and local elections. Adopted in 1999, the Code is a considerable improvement on the previous legislation. However, a number of its provisions have raised considerable concerns, which are reflected in two joint assessments issued by the OSCE/ODIHR and by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission.1
The Electoral Code was amended in July 2002 by the National Assembly and was signed by the President of the Republic on 1 August 2002.
The changes thus made included a number of welcome reforms, some of which reflect recommendations previously made by experts on behalf of the OSCE/ODIHR and the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. A major change is in the nomination procedure of the members of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), which provides that the appointment by the executive branch be limited to three members (appointed by the President) and that the six other members be appointed by the parties (or alliances) represented in Parliament. However, objections have been raised to the fact that this gives an automatic majority in nearly all cases to the representatives of the President and the Government (who have six members to only three from the opposition).
Examples of positive amendments to the Code include the replacement of regional electoral commissions with a larger number of territorial electoral commissions, an end to the rule allowing political parties to withdraw their nominees from electoral committees, which should enhance the independence of electoral administration, and a greater protection for electoral committee members during their term of office.
However, some of the previously identified concerns have not been addressed adequately. Special concern has been raised about the lack of a provision requiring superior electoral commissions to publish detailed results from electoral commissions at the lower levels. This serious lack of transparency is pointed out in the joint assessments of OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission. This issue was also referred to by the representatives of opposition political parties at meetings with the Congress delegation both before and after the elections.
The Venice Commission also criticised the provisions with respect to observers, as three categories of people are so classified. Article 30 of the Code lays down the general rights of 'proxies' (i.e., representatives of candidates), observers, and representatives of the mass media. The Venice Commission points out that the rights and duties of these categories are different and that they should be treated separately.
The Venice Commission did not agree that observers should be given the right to monitor the work of electoral commissions. It stressed that “the role of observers is neutral: it is to observe, not to monitor”.
The Congress delegation noted that the presence of over 1,100 domestic observers was in itself a positive signal for the participation of citizens in the democratic process. However, in many precinct committees the presence of large numbers of observers and candidates' proxies led to confusion. It is therefore suggested that members of electoral committees, proxies and observers should be provided with distinct badges, to be worn at all times.
Also of relevance to the local elections are:
the Law on Local Self-Government
the Law on Political Parties
the Law on NGOs
the Law on the Civil Service
The Law on Local Self-Government, as amended by the National Assembly on 7 May 2002, provides wider opportunities for communities to carry out economic activities and extends the range of resources for establishing municipal property. The Council of Europe experts who appraised the draft law found it to be an improvement on the previous legislation. However, they also found considerable shortcomings in it. Many of their remarks and recommendations were not taken into account when the law was enacted. The new law fails to specify the length of the mandate for community leaders and local councillors. Furthermore, some of its provisions seem to conflict with the final version of the New Constitution.
The legal provisions on community leaders are not applicable to the City of Yerevan, whose Mayor is appointed by the President of the Republic, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister (Article 108 of the Constitution).
6. The election system
According to the information provided by the Central Electoral Commission, local elections were due to be held for 654 community leaders and 645 of the councils of elders, out of approximately 935 local communities in the country. The remaining community leaders and councillors were those elected previously in by-elections. No exact figures were available as to the number of candidates standing at these elections. There were also no figures on the number of women candidates, although it seemed to be extremely low, especially for the posts of community leaders. This is regrettable. However, the number of women sitting on the various electoral committees was relatively high, which is a positive sign.
Armenian citizens have the right to stand for the position of community leader or councillor by self-nomination, upon submitting to the respective Territorial Electoral Commission an application and a receipt for the electoral deposit (Article 123 of the Code). The amount of the deposit depends on the size of the community. In communities with fewer than 5,000 voters, the deposit is calculated as fifty times the minimum salary (i.e. 50,000 drams – less than 100 euros) for a community leader election and ten times the minimum salary for a council election. In communities with over 5,000 voters, the deposit is calculated as one hundred times the minimum salary for a community leader and twenty times the minimum salary for a councillor.
The deposit is returned if a candidate is elected or else gains more than 5 per cent of all votes cast. Otherwise, the deposit is forfeited to the state.
The elections are to be conducted on the basis of a majority system, so in all cases candidates receiving the highest number of votes are elected.
Local elections in Armenia are administered by a three-tier electoral administration consisting of central, territorial and precinct electoral committees. The latter may cater for up to 2000 voters. This number appeared to the delegation to be too great a burden for precinct committees, especially for those situated in polling stations which were far too small, some of which were difficult to access, being either on the first floor of buildings or in a basement. The work of precinct committees was also made difficult by cumbersome procedures. For example, at the count the Chairperson must examine each ballot individually and then pass it on to the Committee. This could have been even more time-consuming if the turnout of voters had been much higher.
7. The electoral campaign
One incident of gun-fire was reported from Kapan before the day of polling, though it appeared that no one had been injured. Otherwise, the electoral campaign was in the main conducted peacefully.
Apart from election posters, the Congress delegation saw few signs of campaigning. For example, in the central district of Yerevan or in Echmiadzin. In places where there were several candidates for the post of community leader, campaigning seemed to be more lively.
Some accusations of bribery and of intimidation of voters were made.
A major feature of the election campaign was the very limited involvement of political parties. According to the Chairman of the CEC, twenty parties took part in the elections. However, while most candidates ran as independents, many of them were reported to have links with a party.
The local elections received some coverage on radio and television and in the press. Random polls in the streets provided conflicting results as to the level of voters' information about the policies of candidates and political parties. Some speakers claimed that reporting had been biased, favouring pro-government candidates.
The Congress delegation received several complaints about inequality of access to the media and about bias in the coverage of the local election campaigns. There were also complaints that serving local and regional administrative officials had used their public resources for campaigning purposes.
It was also pointed out that the lack of financial resources for independent candidates meant that some had been unable to afford political advertisements.
8. Polling Day
On Election Day, the Congress delegation was deployed in four teams of two and visited some fifty polling stations in a number of towns and settlements around five regions – Yerevan, Echmiadzin, Kotayk marz, Shirak marz, and Synik marz. Voting took place without any major incidents being observed by the delegation and was found to be generally well organised. Most of the precinct committees which the delegation observed worked very competently, despite the very time-consuming character of some of the procedures. The new procedure requiring the marking of ballots by a standard symbol appeared to be well understood by voters, with some exceptions.
In some cases the rooms for voting were far too small, and it was difficult for handicapped people to access polling stations located on the first floor or in the basement of buildings. In many cases, voters did not receive notification of the address of their polling station. In several places, the work of the precinct committees was made difficult by power cuts. That was the case with a number of polling stations in G'umri, where the precinct committees had to work with candles or one low-powered light bulb.
A limited number of voters did not find their names on the voter lists, but were nevertheless able to cast a vote after a procedure involving the local court. The Congress teams observed this procedure in Yerevan and G'umri and found that it went smoothly. Nevertheless, there were reports that not all voters were willing to use this procedure, in particular in those areas where they had to travel a long distance to see the local judge. In some places, such as G'umri, certificates were being delivered to applicants carrying a number of passports together.
In some places, campaign posters, groups or bus-loads of people were observed near polling stations, and police were inside them or too close to the voting process. There were reports from domestic observers that prior to polling day some forty tons of flour had been distributed among the electorate in Byureghavan to win support for a particular candidate. However, the Territorial Electoral Committee had asked those concerned to stop this distribution. In Kapan, a local business man was reported to have cancelled voters' debts for the same purpose.
The Congress delegation noted the presence of many domestic observers and candidates' proxies at all polling stations, which is viewed as a positive sign, enhancing the transparency of the elections. Nevertheless, in some places the excessive number of proxies did not contribute to good order at the polling stations and made the work of the precinct committees more difficult.
Only isolated cases of family voting were observed, which shows an improvement, by comparison with the previously observed elections.
9. Results of the elections
The Congress is still awaiting the full results of the municipal elections. The Central Election Commission has declared that the elections held in the country are valid. Some 50 per cent of all eligible voters participated, but in many places the proportion of those who voted was much lower. In Yerevan, for instance, a total of 34 per cent of the capital's residents with voting rights came to the polling stations.
It is interesting to note that the turnout in the capital was higher in those districts where a prefect was being elected. The lowest turnout - 17 per cent - was registered in the Yerevan community of Shengavit, where only members of the council of elders were being elected.
At 6 November 2002, the CEC had received some thirty complaints, questioning the outcome of elections to some twenty local self-government bodies and/or for community leaders. The complaints received are mainly about incorrectly filled ballot papers. According to the information provided by the CEC, complaints have been lodged with local courts in Echmiadzin, Noyemberian, Byureghavan and Vardenik communities. This is said to have contributed to delays in publishing the final results of the elections.
According to a preliminary report from the CEC, a significant number of those who won seats in the country's 645 communities are independent candidates or representatives of the government Republican Party. Second, after the Republican Party, comes the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and third the Orinats Yerkir (Rule of Law) Party.
10. Following Election Day
The day after polling, the Congress delegation undertook a number of debriefing sessions with domestic and international observers, representatives of political parties and the mass media. Many speakers raised serious concerns about the inaccuracy of the voter lists, and there were also complaints of harassment of proxies and observers by police or by precinct officials.
ii. News Conference
In the afternoon, a news conference was held at the Tekyan Centre, Yerevan, which was well attended. On behalf of the Congress observation mission, Mr Christopher NEWBURY, as head of the delegation, made a statement and answered questions for approximately one hour (see the Statement to the press, appended).
11. International observers in Armenia
Apart from a great number of domestic observers deployed by several domestic NGOs, there were 58 other international observers, including embassy staff, monitoring the elections. The delegation liaised with them so far as possible.
i. OSCE/ODIHR Office in Yerevan
Through the Council of Europe's representative in the Republic of Armenia, Ms Natalia VOUTOVA, the Congress delegation had close and effective cooperation with the OSCE/ODIHR office in Yerevan. This office did not deploy an election observation mission, as OSCE/ODIHR generally does not observe local elections. Instead, it undertook a political assessment, conducted by two visiting election experts. The Congress delegation received a briefing from these experts. The OSCE/ODIHR Office also hosted a series of meetings for the Congress delegation in the run-up to election day.
12. Conclusions and recommendations
The local elections held in Armenia on 20 October 2002, the first after the enactment of the New Electoral Code, were an important step towards compliance with the country's obligations and commitments as a Council of Europe member state. They are also seen as an important test for the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.
The accuracy of the voter lists continues to be a source of concern. However, the delegation observed significant progress by comparison with the 1999 elections. It also took note of the promise made by Mr Hovik ABRAHAMYAN, Minister for Co-ordination of Territorial Administration and Development of Infrastructures, that the voter lists would be updated and improved, in the light of the experience of these elections, before the national elections to take place in 2003.
Mr Abrahamyan also promised that the length of the mandate for community leaders and councillors was to be extended from three years to four.
While the level of the deposit to be paid by the candidates did not seem to be a problem in major urban areas, nevertheless it was suggested that candidates had been prevented from offering themselves for election in some smaller communities. In some communities there was only one candidate for the position of community leader.
The observation revealed some problems with regard to the role of the police and proxies. It appears that better training for members of the precinct committees is needed and that the role of the police on polling day should be clarified in the law. Precinct committee members, proxies and observers should be required to wear identity badges at all times.
The Congress delegation would welcome a new legal requirement for the Territorial and Central Electoral Commissions to publish full and detailed results from lower levels. Precinct Commissions should be obliged to reconcile the number of ballot papers with the signatures on the voter lists.
A fairer political balance in electoral commissions should be the subject of further discussions.
Guarantees should be provided for greater equality of access to the media and to other resources during the electoral campaign.
The delegation regrets that no elections, once again, could take place for the position of Mayor of Yerevan, as the holder of this office is a government official.
i. Local Government Training
It seems evident that the newly-elected members and leaders will need some training, to be able to deal adequately with the major challenges now facing their communities. More active and consistent support for Armenia's local authorities from the Council of Europe, from the Congress, and from the international community, could be critical to the success of local initiatives. In this context, professional training organisations, notably the European Network of Training Organisations for Local and Regional Authorities (ENTO), have an important role to play. They could contribute significantly to future training programmes for local and regional authorities, to be run in partnership with local professional bodies and the Association of Communities of Armenia.
Programme of the Observation Mission for Local Elections in Armenia
17-22 October 2002
17 October 2002
Arrival of the delegation in Yerevan checking-in at the hotel
18 October 2002
9:00 Meeting with ODIHR advisors (Congress Hotel)
10:30 Meeting with the Chairman and members of the Central Electorate Commission of Armenia and accreditation of the CLRAE Delegation (CEC)
11:00 Meeting with the Minister of the Coordination of Territorial Administration and Development of Infrastructures (Government house)
13:00 Private Lunch
14:30 Meeting with members of Armenia national delegation to the Congress serving mayors and councillors, representatives of the Association of Communities of Armenia and other NGOs (Association of Communities of Armenia offices)
16:30 Meeting with representatives of political parties and election blocs contesting local elections and candidates for positions of councillors and mayors (Hotel Yerevan)
19 October 2002
9:30 Meeting with domestic observers (OSCE office)
10:30 Meeting with foreign observers (OSCE office)
12:00 Meeting with representatives of mass media (OSCE Office)
13:00 Meeting with CoE member states ambassadors (OSCE office)
14:30 Meeting with the City and precinct electoral commissions (departure to marzes) - Kapan – at 7.00 / Erevan- 3.00 (preliminary) / Giumri – 4.00 (preliminary) / Echmiadzin- 3.30 (preliminary)
20 October 2002
7:00 Observation of the elections
21 October 2002
11:00 Debriefing/CoE (OSCE office)
12:00 Debriefing with OSCE (OSCE office)
12:45 Debriefing with international observers (Tekyan Centre)
13:30 Debriefing with domestic observers (Tekyan Centre)
15:30 Meeting with political parties (Tekyan Centre)
17:00 Public statements (Tekyan Centre)
Congress observer delegation says local elections in Armenia are an important step towards stronger local democracy
Yerevan, 21.10.2002 - A delegation from the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities says that local elections in Armenia reflected the will to comply with international standards and represented an important step in efforts to strengthen local democracy and improve voting procedures.
Campaigning was calm and balanced, said the delegation, although there were some complaints about access to the media and lack of financial resources. Significant progress was noted with regard to the establishment of voter lists
On election day, four teams from the Congress visited polling stations in five regions. They reported some incidents, but said polling stations were well and competently run. However, in many places the turnout was less than 40%.
The Congress delegation gathered information during meetings with political parties and candidates, the Armenian Association of Communities, various election commissions, local and regional administrative officials, domestic and international observers, ambassadors and representatives of OSCE/ODIHR.
The list of delegation members and further information on the observation are available on the following web site: http://www.coe.int/cplre
in Strasbourg : Ulrich Bohner, Deputy Director of the Congress (tel: +18.104.22.168.22.48) in Yerevan : Natalia Voutova, Council of Europe representative in Armenia (tel: +322.214.171.124.61).
Statement of the delegation
Local Elections in Armenia: an important step on the way to stronger local democracy
Yerevan – 21.10.02. Christopher Newbury, Head of the CLRAE observation mission for local elections in Armenia, made the following statement on behalf of the delegation:
“The Congress delegation found that the local elections (which took place only in 654 out of Armenia's 932 municipalities for the community leaders and in 645 for the local councils) reflected the will to comply with international standards. The holding of these elections is seen as an important stage in Armenia's efforts to consolidate and strengthen democratic institutions at the local level.
Our principal impression is that the election campaign remained generally calm and balanced, with significant problems being reported only in a few places.
On election day, the Congress delegation was deployed in four teams of two and visited some fifty polling stations in a number of towns and settlements around five regions – Yerevan, Echmiatzin, Kotayk marz, Shirak marz, and Synik marz. Voting took place without our observing any major incidents, and we found it to be generally well organized.
The delegation received complaints about inequality of access to the media and imbalance of financial resources for candidates. Some cases of intimidation by groups of men were reported.
It is a positive sign for the development of democracy in Armenia that more than 1,100 domestic observers also followed the elections. The Council of Europe team shared information with them and with fifty-eight other international observers present.
Most of the precinct committees which we observed worked very competently, despite the very time-consuming character of some of the procedures. The new procedure requiring the marking of ballots by a standard symbol appeared to be well understood by voters, with some exceptions.
In some cases it was difficult for handicapped persons to access polling stations located on the first floor or basement of buildings. In many cases voters did not get notification of the address of the polling stations.
In several places, the work of precinct committees was made difficult by power cuts. In some places, campaign posters, groups or bus-loads of people were observed near polling stations, and police were inside them or too close to the voting process. It appeared that better training for members of precinct committees is needed, and that the role of the police on polling day should be clarified in the law. Precinct committee members, proxies and observers should be required to wear identity badges at all times.
In general, it seems that the turnout at these elections was rather low, below 50 per cent, though not in all areas. We noted that a large number of Armenians are living and working outside the country, which was bound to depress participation rates.
While the level of the deposit to be paid by candidates did not seem to be a problem in major urban areas, nevertheless it was suggested to us that candidates had been prevented from offering themselves for election in some smaller communities. In some communities there was only one candidate for the position of community leader.
Complaints were made to us about continuing problems with the voter lists. However, we observed significant progress by comparison with the 1999 elections, due largely to computerization and the involvement of the passport authorities.
A limited number of voters did not find their names on the voter lists, but were nevertheless able to cast a vote after a procedure involving the local court. We observed this procedure in the centre of Yerevan and found that it went smoothly. In other places, such as G'umri, certificates were being delivered to applicants carrying a number of passports together.
We took note of three promises made to us by Hovik Abrahamyan, Minister for Regional Government and Co-ordinating the Operation of Infrastructures. One was that the length of the mandate for community leaders and members of councils was to be extended from three years to four. Another was that the voter lists would be further updated and improved, in the light of the experience at these elections, before the national elections to take place in 2003. The third was that full and detailed results for these elections would be published within three weeks.
The delegation would welcome a new legal requirement for Territorial and Central Election Commissions to publish full and detailed results from all lower levels.
We regretted that no election, once again, could take place for the position of Mayor of Yerevan, as the holder of this office is a government official.
The Congress observation mission was undertaken at the invitation of the Republic of Armenia's Ministry for the Co-ordination of Territorial Administration and Development of Infrastructure. During its visit, the Congress delegation held a number of meetings, with representatives of political parties and of other candidates contesting the elections, with the Association of Communities of Armenia, with Central, District and Precinct Election Commissions, with local and regional administrative officials, domestic and international observers, diplomats of Council of Europe member States, and OSCE/ODIHR. These meetings provided the delegation with first-hand information on the new electoral legislation, on the election campaign and on the general political and social environment in the country.
A full report on this election observation mission will be produced for adoption by the Bureau of the Congress on 13 November and published thereafter.”
The Congress delegation included:
1. Christopher NEWBURY (United Kingdom, Head of Delegation)
2. Calin Catalin CHIRITA (Romania, Vice-President of the Congress)
3. Svitlana KASYANOVA (Ukraine)
4. Ayse Bahar CEBI (Turkey)
5. David LLOYD-WILLIAMS (United Kingdom)
6. Lea TOLONEN (Finland)
7. Ulrich BOHNER (Deputy Director of the Congress)
8. Ivan VOLODIN (Congress Secretariat)
9. Natalia VOUTOVA (Council of Europe representative in the Republic of Armenia).
1 See Document CDL (2002) 132. Amendments to the Electoral Code of the Republic of Armenia Adopted in July 2002. Joint Assessment by Experts of the OSCE/ODIHR and the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission, Council of Europe) on the basis of the Comments by Mr Jessie PILGRIM (ODIHR, expert) and Mr Bernard OWEN (Venice Commission, expert). Warsaw/Strasbourg, 17 October 2002. Opinion no. 154/2001_arm.